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Why are workplace education and literacy union issues?

More than 120 years ago, the Knights of Labour supported night school classes for Canadian workers and their families. This was the beginning of Canadian labour’s commitment to workers’ education. CUPE members who have good literacy skills can be more informed and involved. They can help build a stronger local union. Our national literacy program is part of a much larger program of Union Education in CUPE. Workplace education and literacy programs may be the first step that some CUPE members take before they get involved in other kinds of union education workshops.

Most CUPE members know how to read and write. Why is CUPE involved in workplace education and literacy programs?

An international literacy study shows that almost half of adult Canadians do not read or write well enough to meet the demands of today’s workplace. We live in a world where computers have changed the way people work. Restructuring and privatization threaten many CUPE members’ jobs. The need for training and upgrading has never been greater. Five years ago, funding from the National Literacy Secretariat (NLS) helped CUPE set up its National Literacy Program. Our goals are to:

  • Raise awareness about workplace education in CUPE locals.
  • Provide workshops and resources to CUPE locals that want to set up workplace education programs.
  • Encourage clear language communication at all levels of CUPE.

Do you have examples of what CUPE locals are doing?

Each local sets up a program to meet its members’ unique needs. Workplace education programs may offer courses in:

  • Writing
  • Math skills
  • Improved reading skills
  • Computer training
  • Learning a second language
  • Improved communication skills
  • Critical thinking
  • Academic upgrading


It’s not easy to say you need help! Will CUPE members come forward to take courses?

You’d be surprised what can happen when a union offers a safe and supportive place for learning to happen. We can help your CUPE local negotiate a workplace education program with the employer. Your local can benefit from many CUPE success stories across the country. You can find out more by attending a workplace education workshop. Some workshops are only a few hours long. Others last for a weekend, or even a whole week. We also offer training in clear language communication.

What is clear language communication?

It is a way of writing that puts readers’ needs first. If you want to make your newsletter or the minutes of your meetings easy-to-read for all members of your local, clear language workshops offer the chance to develop new writing skills. The national literacy program also supports locals that want to make their collective agreements clearer. We have published a booklet about this. We also offer special workshops that can help your local make your collective agreement clearer.

How does CUPE’s literacy program work?

Our project is guided by a Literacy Working Group, made up of CUPE activists from across Canada. This group works closely with Sylvia Sioufi, Coordinator of CUPE’s National Literacy Program, and with CUPE Education Representatives from across the country. CUPE’s National Literacy Program is also part of the Canadian Labour Congress’ (CLC) Workplace Literacy Project.

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