Respectively in February and March 2014, Université Laval and UQAM decided to remunerate by way of a salary all postdocs who had previously been receiving a fellowship from them. This change raised many questions among both the postdocs directly affected by it and those of other universities. We want to answer the main questions concerning this subject here.

Question 1

What is the impact of the conversion of fellowships into salaries?

Since fellowships and salaries are taxed differently, this conversion affects postdocs’ earnings after taxes and contributions. On the other hand, it gives them access to certain social programs for which they were not previously eligible. See this chart for an overview of the differences between the two tax systems.

Question 2

Is the conversion a consequence of the unionization of postdocs?

No, not in the least.

In this email sent to postdocs on February 5, 2014, Université Laval stated quite clearly that the conversion of fellowships into salaries “is not the result of union certification” [translation].

For its part, UQAM stated that the modification made to the mode of remuneration of postdocs is further to “a decision of the Canada Revenue Agency” [translation]. You can read its explanation in the email sent to the postdocs concerned on April 4, 2014.

Question 3

Is the conversion a result of the postdocs’ employee status?

This is highly doubtful.

Of all the universities where postdocs are explicitly recognized as employees, only Université Laval and UQAM have converted their fellowships into salaries. École polytechnique, Université de Montréal and Université de Sherbrooke, just to name a few, have not done so.

Also, do not forget that the Commission des relations du travail (CRT) considers a postdoctoral fellowship to be a form of remuneration compatible with the status of employee. It makes this point in all the decisions it has handed down concerning postdocs (for details, see Fellow, employee, or both?).

Question 4

Could the conversion be done without a union-management agreement?

In our opinion, no.

Pursuant to section 59 of the Labour Code, the working conditions of employees, including their remuneration, cannot be modified without the written consent of the union from the moment it is certified.

Université Laval and UQAM did proceed to convert their fellowships into salaries after their postdocs unionized, but without reaching an agreement with their union counterparts first.

If this conversion were in fact mandatory, negotiations between labour and management would have allowed for mitigation of its effects.

By unilaterally changing the mode of remuneration of postdocs, Université Laval and UQAM committed, according to our interpretation, an offence under the Labour Code. A complaint has been filed with the Commission des relations du travail on this issue.