FOR THE UNIONIZED POSTDOCTORAL FELLOWS OF QUÉBEC UNIVERSITIES
Polytechnique - U Laval - U de Sherbrooke - U de Montréal - UQAR - Mcgill U
Postdoctoral fellows from UQAM take steps to unionize. Their newly constituted union applies for certification with the Commission des relations du travail (CRT). The application concerns postdocs whose fellowships come from the university’s research funds.
UQAM contests the application for union certification, alleging that postdocs are not employees and therefore cannot unionize. Only employees may exercise the right to unionize under the Labour Code.
Before deciding on whether UQAM postdocs are entitled to unionize, the CRT must determine whether they have employee status or not. This question is brought before the CRT for the first time. The ruling will set case law on the matter.
In its ruling, the CRT concludes that postdocs to whom UQAM pays fellowships from its research funds are employees within the meaning of the Labour Code. They can therefore exercise the right to unionize.
On March 1, the union representing UQAM postdocs is certified by the CRT.
On March 2, the postdocs of École polytechnique request certification of their union from the CRT. Like UQAM postdocs, they are remunerated out of their university’s research funds.
Polytechnique contests its postdocts’ move to unionize, asserting, not surprisingly, that they are not employees.
Meanwhile, UQAM asks the CRT to review the decision handed down in 2011 in its regard and to revoke the union’s certification, reiterating the same grounds, namely that postdocs are not employees.
After analysis, the CRT responds to UQAM by rejecting these grounds for review and by maintaining its 2011 decision, as well as the union’s certification.
In its decision on Polytechnique, the CRT reaffirms the principle it stated in the UQAM case and declares that those Polytechnique postdocs whose fellowships come from their university’s research funds are indeed employees.
Henceforth, no other universities will raise the claim that postdocs are not employees in an attempt to block their unionization.
Polytechnique postdocs become officially unionized in April when ASSEP is certified by the CRT to represent them.
The unionization of postdocs continues. SA2RE is certified as the representative of postdocs at Université Laval in August, and SAREUS, as the representative of those at Université de Sherbrooke, in September.
Role of the Commission des relations du travail
The Commission des relations du travail (CRT) is a specialized tribunal with jurisdiction over, among other things, various appeals relating to job protection, essential services, and labour relations in a unionized environment.
The CRT’s responsibilities include the application of the Labour Code with regard to the following matters:
- Union formation and legal recognition (via certification);
- Negotiation of collective agreements and the resolution of disputes between management and labour;
- The right to strike and lock-out.
Reasons for the rulings of the Commission des relations du travail
In its rulings, the Commission des relations du travail used two criteria to decide that postdocs remunerated out of their university’s research funds are employees:
- The fellowship granted to these postdocs constitute remuneration in exchange for work they do for university professors. It is not disinterested financial assistance aimed primarily at allowing them to further their professional development.
- There is a relationship of subordination between these postdocs and the university as their work is carried out within a framework defined by the university and under the supervision of one of its professors. In other words, postdocs are working for others. They are not self employed.
Union certification procedure
In order to be legally recognized as the representative of a group of workers, a union must obtain certification from the Commission des relations du travail (CRT). For more information on the procedure, go to the Accréditation syndicale page (in French only) on the CRT web site.
About university research funds
University research funds include:
- Research grants received by professors;
- Amounts paid to professors under research contracts obtained from the private sector;
- Any other financial assistance granted to the university or any of its units to support research.
Postdocs whose fellowship or salary comes from any of the sources mentioned above are therefore paid from their university’s research funds.
Definition of “employee” under the Labour Code
An employee is a person who works under the management and control of another person in exchange for remuneration. This remuneration can take various forms and modalities, whether by commission, performance, time, week, month or year. (Source here, answer A-4, in French only)