By Gurmukh Singh
TORONTO: When you think of cab and truck driving, you think of Punjabis. Canada is no exception. In fact, Punjabis claim to dominate the trucking industry in Canada.
Nachhattar Singh Chohan, Toronto area’s known community leader who is the founder president of the Indian Trucking Association, is one such typical success story in the trucking industry in Canada.
“We Punjabis control more than 60 percent of all trucking operations in Canada. There is a perpetual shortage of truck drivers and mechanics and new Punjabi immigrants fill this need,’’ says Chohan who came to Canada in 1980 from Budhi Pind near Hoshiarpur in Punjab.
Like any new immigrant, he says he too struggled in his earlier years as he worked in factories before finding his true calling – trucking.
“When I started my own company in the mid-1990s, there were only a few Indians in this business. Punjabis are famous for one thing – if one starts something, everyone follows him. That’s how they have entered the trucking business here and virtually taken over it,’’ says Chohan who operates his own fleet of truck-trailers under the name of CH TransX.
Explaining the fascination of even well-qualified Punjabi immigrants for the trucking business, he says, “Punjabi immigrants come to Canada to make money and make it very fast. But the only jobs available to them are in factories where they can’t make more than $400 to $500 week. However, as a trucker driver, they can easily make between $4,000 and $5,000 a month. I have drivers who make even up to $7,000 a month. From truck driving, many have gone on to start own transport companies.’’
Giving another reason, he says, “Trucking is a tough business. But Punjabi immigrants are ready to rough it out. That’s they have succeeded beyond any imagination. Some of them have even more than 500 truck-trailers today. We have created thousands of jobs for Canada.’’
Chohan’s own story is typical of most Punjabi truckers in Canada. “I worked with a brake manufacturing companies for 13 years – from 1980 to 1993. While working in that company, I got an offer from the Toronto Star newspaper to become their delivery man. Initially, they gave me their own delivery van. After some time, they asked me to buy a van and then they asked me to buy a bigger truck to delivery more newspapers. When I went to buy the truck, the dealer charged $25,000. But the dealer had bought it for just $10,000 from a transport company. I happened to meet the man who had sold this truck to the dealer. He offered to sell second-hand trucks directly to me at a much cheaper rate. I said okay. That’s how I started in trucking. First, I bought four trucks from him and then kept adding.’’
He says his reputation as a community leader started fetching him freight orders from major companies.
But as his trucking business grew, Chohan says he personally became familiar with the problems faced by Punjabi truckers at the hands of the transport, police and border officials.
“That’s why formed the Indian Trucking Association in 2008. The mainstream media and government officials interacted with us as they wanted to educate themselves about our problems.’’ Though not all their problems have been solved, they pay attention to our grievances, he says.
“The growth of the trucking industry around the Punjabi community has also fostered a sense of identity and togetherness among our people,’’ claims Chohan who for years sponsored Canada’s hugely successful TV programme called Insight Into Sikhism.