Victory: Université Laval Postdoctoral Fellows Recognized as Employees

After a thorough investigation, the CNESST (commission on workplace standards, fairness, health and safety) has found that Université Laval’s postdoctoral fellows are employees as defined in the Pay Equity Act and are thus entitled to a pay equity program and all related benefits, on the following grounds: 

  • there is a relationship of subordination between professor (research supervisor) and postdoctoral fellow; 

  • university and postdoctoral fellow are bound by an employment contract; 

  • the collective agreement states that fellows must meet the job requirements and the provisions relating to their probation period, conditions that do not apply to students; 

  • the potential for confusion between the student component and the work component is not enough to warrant exclusion, in view of the legislature’s intention for a broad and liberal interpretation of the Act; 

  • the status of postdoctoral fellow is defined solely within the context of a work relationship, which is not the case for students. 

After two meetings of the joint committee tasked with developing a pay equity program for the members of the University’s postdoc and student workers union (PSAC-STEP), the employer withdrew without any notice from the process negotiated by the parties. Furthermore, the employer filed a notice of dispute with the Commission, claiming that postdoctoral fellows are “students”, not “employees”, and therefore the exclusions set out in section 8 of the Act (students working in a field related to their field of study) apply to them.  

Although the Act gives the employer the right to challenge this decision before the Administrative Labour Tribunal, the decision is a resounding victory not only for our members at Université Laval, but for all Quebec postdoctoral fellows.  


February 11, 2021