Coming out of our discussions with members of the Pandemic Response Team, the Employer has proposed allowing faculty the option to request a one-time taxable payment from their APEF of up to one year’s allocation to support making their remote work environment more suitable for an extended period. There would be no restrictions or accountability regarding what is purchased with the funds.
The Executive has discussed this proposal, and we have informed the Employer that we do not agree to this plan. APEFs are a negotiated benefit under Article 22.12.1 in the Agreement, which stipulates that the account is to be used to help defray expenses associated with teaching, research, and related professional activities, or to obtain financial counselling for retirement. The intent is not that those funds can be converted to taxable cash for any purpose whatsoever. Converting the APEFs to taxable income would give our members significantly less purchasing power for items they buy in order to do their work remotely. Other employers, in contrast, are increasing financial support to employees for these expenses during COVID. Working remotely comes with extraordinary costs. Those costs should not be borne by employees.
Any change as to the purpose of this fund will have to be negotiated. We have a longstanding past practice in terms of the use of the APEF, and the Executive is agreed that in the absence of a signed agreement, any further actions that limit or change the use or purpose of this fund will be referred to Grievance.
On a related matter, we have repeatedly told the Employer that we object to the APEF being suddenly treated as a taxable benefit. This includes ConnectionPoint or other staff denying APEF reimbursements or purchases that have historically been legitimate expenses, simply because they now consider the purchase to be providing “personal benefit” to faculty. There is a declaration form that employees may use to certify that university property used off campus is solely to carry out “professional, teaching and / or research activities with the University of Saskatchewan,” and that any “personal use, including use for other business purposes, is incidental … any resulting personal benefit for income tax purposes will be a matter between [the employee] and Canada Revenue Agency.” We have again requested information on why this change is happening now, especially when faculty are bearing exceptional costs of working from home.