I wrote before about the demise of the Visiting Fellowship program, which placed postdocs in Canadian government research labs, and used NSERC as a middleman (middle-agency?). Recently, the employment practices around this arrangement, particularly whether postdocs were entitled to benefits. An employment tribunal reasoned that they were, and the program shuttered (though all current VFs were fine through the remainder of their tenure).
Now, it comes to my attention that an open-ended competition for the Postdoctoral Research Pilot Program (PRP) has been posted on the Government of Canada jobs site. My guess, and those of some informed government colleagues, is that this is the replacement for the old VF program. But there has been no announcement, no information page, nothing.
Some other interesting queries… all government jobs are classified based on the broad category and salary scale. Two important ones for our purposes here are RES and EG. RES is a Research Scientist, and there are 5 levels (RES-5 being the highest). EGs are scientific technicians, with EG-7 being the highest level. How are PRPs to be classified? The old VF program scaled salary to n% of the entry level RES-1 (I think it was 85-90%). If the new PRPs are to be classified (and they would be, as government employees), an entry RES-1 seems most likely. This is huge, as the base salary in 2013 (the last year of the current collective agreement) is $53,161 (link; search for “SE-RES-1”). That’s a big improvement on the $49k of the VF program. It’s even bigger if it includes benefits, which are quite significant in a government job (pension, medical/dental, etc). So the actual cost goes up considerably.
Where will this new money be found? Previously, the VF program paid postdocs from their immediate supervisor’s operational budget. I wonder if the benefits side of things will be similarly covered, or whether that comes from higher up in the department. And what about unionization? RES positions are represented by PIPSC, and the current agreement is up for renewal. Granted PIPSC isn’t known to strike as often as the other major federal government labour union (PSAC), but who knows what the future will bring.
One last, yet troubling, word. The advertisement linked above excludes two of the most science-heavy departments: Fisheries & Oceans Canada, and Environment Canada. Sources have told me that there continues to be no internal / government postdoc option in these departments, and no indication that one will be appearing soon. With an already limited pool of postdoc funding, the loss of the VF program, and unavailability of the PRP in all departments puts further strain on PhD graduates in Canada, and especially those who want experience in the public service.