CUPE is demanding Canada’s public pension plan abandon plans to invest in a major water privatization scheme in Brazil. The Canada Pension Plan Investment Board is taking part in a massive selloff of public infrastructure being led by far-right President Jair Bolsonaro while the country is being ravaged by COVID-19.

The affected workers are calling for solidarity and support from Canadian workers to help defend public water services.

The CPPIB is in the process of buying a 45 per cent stake in Iguá Saneamento, a Brazilian sanitation company. Iguá Saneamento will use the CPPIB’s $270 million to buy a public water system being auctioned off in the state of Rio de Janeiro. The auction takes place on April 30.

“It’s outrageous that our public pension plan is using workers’ retirement funds to profit from people’s need for clean water and safe sewage treatment. These are human rights that are essential for survival. Access to water services is already fragile and unequal in Brazil. Privatization will make things worse and we want it scrapped,” says CUPE National President Mark Hancock.

Privately owned and operated water and wastewater services have a terrible track record. Water privatization often comes with skyrocketing rates, plummeting access, declining quality and cuts in service and jobs. The National Federation of Urban Workers (FNU), which represents water workers in Rio de Janeiro, says the privatization will mean thousands of workers will lose their jobs.

“CUPE is strongly opposed to pension funds investing in, and profiting from, privatized infrastructure. We want our pension funds to make decent investment returns, but not at the expense of workers and the Canadian public, or workers and residents in other countries. The CPPIB must pull out of this harmful and risky privatization plan,” says CUPE National Secretary-Treasurer Charles Fleury.

The current political environment makes any investment in Brazilian infrastructure inherently risky. The water services auction is happening in the runup to presidential elections in 2022 that could overturn the privatization. The FNU is also challenging the auction in the courts.