A landmark decision was made late last month by the Ontario Labour Relations Board regarding the status of postdoctoral fellows. Jesse Greener, President of the University of Toronto’s Postdoc Association has recently, and nicely, summarised the impacts of this ruling on the Canadian Association of Postdoctoral Scholars discussion board.
I am writing this because I want to make sure that all the facts are out there, as best as I can represent them. As you probably already know, the Ontario Labour Relations Board issued a decision on January 20 that states Postdoctoral Fellows are employees of the universities where they work…this decision is binding on all Ontario universities, not just U of T…
Jesse goes on to discuss the implications of the ruling, with a particular focus on what this means for postdoctoral fellows and their employment rights. The reason that I’ve chosen to have this story lead this year’s blog entry on taxes is because it is the result of the frustration felt by postdoctoral fellows over the clarification of the scholarship exemption and whether or not postdocs are trainees or employees. Status across the country is highly variable and is one of the main issues that CAPS faces in higher level discussions with universities, the government, and funding agencies.
If you are interested in our previous discussions on these matters, please do visit the following entries which include the pros and cons of employment status and how you can deal with your tax as a postdoc in Canada:
- 2011 Taxes for Post Docs: At least we know the rules this year
- The CRA response to CAPS (guest blogger Carl Wonders)
- Let the Discussions Begin (guest blogger Marianne Stanford)
- 2010 Canadian Taxes: Did you get your T2202 and T4a?
- Budget 2010: Post Docs, be careful what you wish for…
The practical information has not changed much for this year’s filing and is summed up in 2011 Taxes for Post Docs: At least we know the rules this year. Basically, postdoctoral income by grant, scholarship, fellowship, or any other means is taxable in Canada. If you are paid off a research grant, there may be some remit for claiming research related expenses, but you definitely do not qualify for the scholarship exemption.
Of additional interest is this morning’s “Daybreak Montreal” episode on CBC radio which featured an interview with a Montreal postdoc who, as was the case for many postdocs in Quebec, was hired with the understanding that their postdoctoral stipend would be tax exempt.
Basically, the CRA maintains that either the university or the individual misinterpreted the federal tax policy and they have simply corrected the issue. The Quebec government still bins postdoctoral fellows as research trainees that have student status which is reflected in its tax policy, and places postdocs in an even more confusing situation. This is especially problematic for international postdocs who have not grown up with the Canadian tax system and are trying to make decisions about whether or not to contribute to the Canadian research enterprise. This final point is further underscored by the McGill Dean of Graduate and Postdoctoral Studies Martin Kreiswirth who notes that this CRA decision negatively impacts a university’s ability to recruit and retain postdocs, 62% of whom are international at McGill. This will be a tough battle for postdocs who find themselves in this situation.
Overall, I feel that the key points remain the same:
- Whether through tax incentives or not, Canada needs to find a way to increase the take-home pay of the average Canadian postdoctoral fellow if it wishes to remain a competitive option for international postdocs. Numerous other countries (e.g.: Australia, Switzerland, United Kingdom) have substantially higher remuneration packages.
- Postdocs need to have a defined status – trainee or employee. It doesn’t have to be the same for all postdocs, but it needs to be clearly spelled out before any position is accepted. At least then, people will know where they stand and what they are signing up for.
In the meantime, I would encourage people to follow the CAPS website and be in touch with your local Postdoc association.