"The answer was yes straight away, although I was asked: ‘Are you sure? You know there’s another job going in the offices".
Valeria Graña began working at Montecon as a consequence of a challenge that impacted her life: the passing of her husband, her dad and a friend of theirs, during a fishing trip. Her husband also worked at Montecon, and as she soon became the boss of the household, she needed to find a job to support her two children. She couldn’t wait. Montecon gave her that opportunity immediately, opening the door to her first job. It also gave her something else, the chance to discover the energizing power that comes from your own courage.
She chose a challenging task, traditionally taken on by men. Her workmate is an articulated arm known as the ‘Manlift’, which enables her to climb up fifteen metres to monitor refrigerated containers (Reefers). This was to be her daily mission at the port in Montevideo. From up above, a new Valeria rediscovered her life and the strength of her will.
Fate, or maybe coincidences, enabled her to fulfil her love of taking her feet off the ground. “When I first started at Montecon, I went into the Cleaning sector. One day, we needed to clean windows outside the boss’ office and you had to go on the Manlift. None of my colleagues was willing to; I was the first and only person to raise my hand”, she recalled.
That day she knew that her calling was to work up high, and that she could do it by taking on tasks among piled up containers. So she decided to get permission. “I began to insist with my supervisor about doing courses and getting into the Reefers area. The answer was 'yes' straight away, although I was asked: ‘Are you sure? You know there’s another job going in the offices.’'But I wanted that role,” she recalls.
She knew that her curiosity would bring a change, not only in that sector but in the company. She would be the first woman to control the temperature, the humidity and the ventilation of the containers carrying perishable goods, from meat and fruit to vaccines. She would also have to plug or unplug them from the boats and repair them if they broke down.
"I arrived and my colleagues said ‘Look, this is how we work’."
“I arrived and my colleagues said, ‘Look, this is how we work’. They put across their points and I accepted them. But I also put mine across, so it was an agreement”, she assures. From day one she was comfortable in the group, and she decided she would do the job the same as the others. “One day it’s a man’s turn to pick up fifty cables, the next day it’s my turn. There’s no difference”.
Until four years ago, Valeria could see the port through the eyes of her husband Adrian, who worked in the company's Maintenance area. “He showed us photos, told stories and inside, I wondered if I would get the chance to get to know it one day”, she says. At that time, she was 100% dedicated to raising her children Hiojan and Agustín; but the disappearance of her husband gave her no other option.
He went out fishing with his father-in-law – Valeria’s dad – and a work colleague, and they never came back. “The accident didn’t happen during working hours, but the company offered work to the other man’s wife and me so as to give us a hand. They told us that we should take our time and that once we were ready, the doors were open. I waited nearly three months."
Many women think that at the port heavy jobs are done and only men can complete them. And this isn’t the case.
Becoming a housewife from one day to the next “wasn’t easy" – she admits - "but it wasn’t impossible either”. At first, she didn’t think she would last: she ran home from work, took the youngest child to football training, the oldest to his maths tutor, went to bed late and got up early the next day. “Weeks went by and my body didn’t respond; until I got used to it and things started to change”, she relates.
Her time outside Montecon is dedicated exclusively to her children; the rest of the day, they are looked after by her grandmother. “I work and she helps me with the kids. Until I start work, I’m constantly calling my mum to see how they are and if they need anything. For them, it was a big change. And they collaborate: if I tell them that I’m going to have a long day, they say “You go and rest,’ and they play games peacefully."
If she’s not manoeuvring the Manlift, you can see her going up and down the stairs of the platforms where Reefers are connected, or fixing broken containers to stop any water getting in. No cold, heat or rain will deter her: she only stops for security reasons if the wind blows more than 34km per hour.
“Many women think that at the port heavy jobs are done and only men can complete them. And this isn’t the case. I would say to those women that they should come and work here, that you get as far as you want. You can achieve it through determination and willingness”. You just have to dare to fly.
Montecon is the main public-area operator in the Port of Montevideo, not only for containers but also for general freight and freight projects. Its clients enjoy a seamless service that is world class.