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CUPE Ontario leaders were the first to officially greet Colombian trade unionist Maria Fernanda Bolanos when she stepped off the plane in Toronto last weekend to begin a six-week tour of Canada as CUPE National’s guest.

OD president Sid Ryan and secretary-treasurer Fred Hahn hosted a discussion about issues of mutual concern to CUPE and Sintraemsirva, Bolanos’s union, including privatization and the recently negotiated free trade deal between Canada and Colombia. They also hosted a lunch and presented Bolanos with several documents outlining the OD’s latest activities.

Bolanos, whose life has been threatened for her trade union a work, is a 34-year-old single parent with a 17-year old daughter. A leader of Sintraemsirva, a sanitation union in Cali, Colombia, she works as a weigh-scale attendant for a waste management company called Emsirva. She is the only female employee in her unit of 38 workers.

Sintraemsirva has about 437 members and has had a collective agreement since 1966. However, another 700 contract workers, paid some of the lowest wages in the country, do some of the union members’ work.

While in Canada, she will visit five provinces to learn about waste management systems run by CUPE members. She will also discuss the privatization of municipal services. For the past seven years Emsirva has been run by a private company. Bolanos’s union continues to fight against the privatization.

The company has been accused of bad management and corruption. Now the government of Colombian president Alvaro Uribe plans to fully privatize Emsirva. Bolanos’s union has warned that the public service will be shut down, jobs cut, and only the lowest-paid employees will be rehired by private firms with no collective agreement.

CUPE members will learn about the privatization threat and discuss other issues when they meet Bolanos in Toronto this week and later in Ottawa, Halifax, Fredericton, Moncton, Vancouver, Victoria and Winnipeg. CUPE members will host her visit to each province.

Later this week, National President Paul Moist and three other top public sector trade union leaders will visit Colombia and will meet with Bolanos’s union and discuss support for its fight against privatization.

Bolanos returns to her home in Cali on August 22.