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Canadians need to use what they have, their freedom, to protest and work against privatization, CUPE’s Colombian guest told the president of the British Colombia Government Employees’ Union during the B.C. leg of her cross-Canada tour.

BCGEU president Darryl Walker met with Maria Fernanda Bolanos, a 34-year-old sanitation worker from Cali, Colombia, Aug. 6 to discuss privatization and other public sector issues. They were joined by vice-presidents Lorene Oikawa and Michael Clark and about 12 other BCGEU members and staff.

The group asked many questions about Bolanos’s work as a municipal employee as well as the labour situation in general.

Bolanos’s union, Sintraemsirva faces massive privatization, she told the group, including major concessions to private companies. The companies take over much of the city’s sanitation work on Jan. 1 and have the license for seven years.

Despite a long union campaign to protect jobs and services, the Colombian government has given the most profitable parts of the garbage collection system to three private companies. The private takeover will shift all 450 Sintraemsirva members to the north section of the city to collect the garbage, Bolanos said, but there will be too many workers for the amount of work.

What follows in the privatization process will be an offer of voluntary leave and then layoffs. Meanwhile, the union is trying to re-negotiate a collective agreement in a country where 95 per cent of public sector workers have no enforceable collective agreement.

In the context of the recently signed free trade agreement between Colombia and Canada, Bolaños shed light on economic and political conditions in her country. She says the aggressive pursuit of profits by multinational companies is the backdrop for disappearances, assassinations and land clearances where people are forcibly removed from their rural homes and lands to ensure unimpeded access to valuable natural resources.

Bolanos also told of a hunger strike in a church in Cali where about 600 people out of about 1,000 who used to work informally in the landfill, picking through the garbage to find recyclable material for resale.

The landfill has been privatized and these informal workers have been removed. The union tried to make an alliance with them to prevent the privatization, but the recyclers believed the promises made by the municipality and the company that they would be offered jobs like the EMSIRVA workers if they left the landfill.

The promises remain unfulfilled and will always remain so given the cuts to collection services, Bolanos said. This is why they are on a hunger strike in the church.

For a full report on the BCGEU meeting:

http://www.bcgeu.ca/A_Sisters_story_death_threats_and_privatizations .


Earlier, Bolanos toured a Vancouver landfill site with CUPE 1004 president Mike Jackson where she met other women doing work similar to what she does in Cali. Jackson, a 10-year veteran at the landfill site, conducted a thorough tour of the operation. It included public drop-off and recycling, methane gas collection and processing, composting of yard waste materials, and hills of covered landfill.

Bolanos noted the similarities and differences among landfill sites that she had visited in Vancouver, Ottawa, Halifax and Bathurst, N.B. During the tour, she met with some of the CUPE 1004 workers, saw the ‘bird guy’ (a worker with a hawk on his arm to keep away seagulls), and talked with one of the few women who work in the landfill (aside from the weigh scale).

With files from Barbara Wood (CUPE 1004) and BCGEU’s Stephen Howard