PhD workers pay is not tax exempt, despite being paid less than minimum wage

Recent correspondence between Revenue and PWO committee member Seathrún Sardina confirms that postgraduate workers are not tax exempt, despite earning 22% under minimum wage per annum.

Sardina claims that he was instructed by his institution, Trinity College Dublin, and the SFI, to fill out a “Scholarship Exemption Declaration Form”, which declares that he is a full time student and tax exempt on his earnings through his PhD programme. This is despite Sardina not sitting any instruction or receiving direct education during his time in the programme. He describes the function of his PhD programme as being "to generate intellectual property for my college through research and to teach."

Sardina contacted Revenue for clarity on this matter, as the form requires the signatory to confirm that they are in full time education, which he is not. Revenue responded as follows.

"Section 193 TCA 1997 provides that income arising from a scholarship is exempt from income tax, USC and PRSI when certain conditions are satisfied. The main condition is:

The scholarship must be held by a person receiving full-time instruction at a university, college, school or other educational establishment. ‘Scholarship’ includes an exhibition, bursary or other similar educational endowment.

The object of the scholarship must be the promotion of the education of the holder rather than the promotion of research through the holder."

Sardina, despite earning less than the national minimum wage, now owes the state over €1,000 in taxes.

He also stated in his communication with The University Observer: "I also wish to highlight that this is not a problem with any individual supervisors – it is a result of an abusive system that they cannot control. This fault lies not with them at all – in fact, many of them are also in precarious situations. This fault is with the broader system of PhD classification, funding, and hiring."

This news follows a PWO demonstration on March 23rd, where postgraduate workers and their supporters marched from Trinity College to the Dáil, where they called for better workplace protections and fair wages.

Students and postgraduate workers concerned about this issue are encouraged to contact the Postgraduate Workers Organisation.