The Crisis For Postdocs at Canadian Universities

Post-doctoral fellows (“postdocs” or “PDFs”) provide the engine behind much of a university’s research program. They can be domestic or foreign. Postdocs have a Ph.D., typically work between 40-60 hours a week, but can be paid as low as $28,000 even at the U of T, though a few make much more. They have little-to-no benefits either. Universities benefit enormously from this arangement, and do not seem to care that it is on the backs of hard-working postdocs who all too often, do not earn enough to properly support themselves or their families. If postdocs are lucky enough to become faculty members they are protected by faculty associations who negotiate pay, benefits, and working conditions. Other than a small (but growing) number of unionized postdocs, especially in Canada, there is little meaningful representation.

It appears that universities are exploiting the uncertainty regarding taxes to usher in a new approach that would degrade postdocs' status to that of "students" or "trainees". Out of desperation, this move is even being supported by some postdocs now that the Canadian Revenue Agency is signaling that taxes will apply to their meager salaries. We fear that the universities may be using the turmoil related to this situation to expand the number of revenue generating units on campus, by reclassifying PFDs as trainees or students. Whether this is specifically their goal or not, at the end of the day postdocs may very well be left with low, taxable wages, little-to-no benefits, and new university tuition fees.

We think postdocs should be seeking basic minimum standards associated with their employment. We are calling on administrators and Canadian government to protect postdocs.

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