More than 5,000 federal public servants were told today that their jobs are at risk of being eliminated and the unions say there is no doubt services to Canadians will be affected as a result.

Human Resources and Skills Development Canada is the hardest hit in the latest announcements, with a total of 2,055 employees given notices, according to the two largest unions representing them.

The Canada Revenue Agency also had a big number, informing 1,212 employees they could lose their jobs. It was the first time it had given notices to any employees and hundreds of its auditors are being affected.

According to the Public Service Alliance of Canada (PSAC) and the Professional Institute of the Public Service of Canada (PIPSC), workers at more than a dozen departments and agencies were given the news today. This is the latest in a series of announcements that have been trickling out since March when the government said 19,200 positions will eventually be eliminated over the next three years in order to save $5.2 billion.

When employees are given affected notices it doesn't necessarily mean they will be laid off but if a certain number of positions within a department are being cut some might have to compete with their co-workers to keep one of the remaining positions. Others might be moved to open positions within the public service and the government intends to eliminate some jobs through attrition.

Employees who lose a competition with their co-workers will be declared "surplus" and will be out of a job. Some employees are declared surplus right away without a competition.

1,450 positions at Service Canada affected

Most of the notices given to HRSDC employees today – 1,450 – were for work at Service Canada, the department responsible for programs such as employment insurance, passports, and helping Canadians find jobs. The notices add to more than 1,022 that were given out at HRSDC in April.

"Cuts to Service Canada are especially troubling as it is impossible that frontline services won't be affected with the jobs of so many of its 23,000 employees in question," a statement from PSAC said. It said there is little clear information about what programs are being cut or how services to the public will be affected.

One of the moves made by the government in the budget implementation bill was to consolidate the appeals process for those using the Canada Pension Plan, Old Age Security and Employment Insurance into one body instead of three and PSAC anticipates that is where many of its HRSDC members will be cut.

Diane Finley, the minister for HRSDC, said the government promised Canadians it would be efficient despite the cuts.

"A lot of what we do is processing of various claims and payments. Today's technology can help us do that more effectively for Canadians and quicker and we have a responsibility to taxpayers to do things that way," she said at an event in Newfoundland and Labrador Wednesday morning.

Finley said more than 90 per cent of people now apply for their employment insurance claims online and that helps make "backroom operations" more cost effective and efficient.

 "I expect our service levels may even go up," Finley said.

A news release from her department explained that Service Canada is consolidating smaller and more costly EI processing sites into larger regional hubs and a range of other back-office administrative functions across the country. By April 1, 2014, the administration of Service Canada's grants and contributions program will take place in 30 communities instead of 97 and integrity services will operate in 65 communities rather than 122.

Consolidation is also happening at the Canada Revenue Agency and it's going to affect frontline services, according to PSAC. All cash and enquiry counters providing in-person services are being shut down and the website and call centres will have to be used instead to answer questions, the union said. But 20 jobs are being cut at one of those call centres, the one in Winnipeg. In total, the union was informed that 339 positions are being eliminated throughout the agency.

Enforcement work is being consolidated and some management positions are also merging, and that will mean some adminstration support staff positions will be cut, according to the union. There had been fears that tax centres, where tax returns are processed, would be shut down but the union has been told that none are slated for closure "at this time."

About 400 CRA auditors who received affected notices today work in the areas of criminal investigations, special enforcement and voluntary disclosure.

Fisheries scientists could be cut

Close to 300 PIPSC members and 97 PSAC members at Fisheries and Oceans Canada learned today that their jobs are on the line. They are biologists, chemists and other scientists. Some work for the Experimental Lakes Area research centre in northwestern Ontario that is slated to close next year because of budget cuts. The facility is internationally known for research into everything from acid rain to climate change to fish farming.

PSAC said the department is substantially reducing the number of habitat offices and that the entire program is going to consolidate into 15 locations instead of 63.

According to the unions, the other departments that issued affected notices today include:

  • Justice: 628.
  • National Defence: 346.
  • Transport: 176 affected and 107 will be cut.
  • Canada School of Public Service: 73 and 35 will be cut.
  • Public Works and Government Services Canada: 78 and 45 will be cut.
  • Citizenship and Immigration Canada: 57.
  • Environment Canada: 26, 23 of them at Montreal's Biosphere.
  • Infrastructure Canada: 20.
  • Correctional Services Canada: 7
  • Department of Foreign Affairs and International Trade:1
  • Health Canada: 2.

Several of those departments had already issued notices to other employees in previous announcements.

PIPSC's president, Gary Corbett, said his members are highly professional and qualified people and losing them would have an impact on all Canadians.

"The services that they deliver, the knowledge that they deliver to Canadians is unique and necessary for the running of the country," said Corbett.

More than 4,300 of his members have been given affected notices so far since March and Corbett said a few hundred of those have been declared surplus and will be out of work.

The process takes some time to play out, as the competitions for jobs take place and employees find work in other departments. It won't be clear until later how many people will actually lose their jobs.

"The real cuts – not the affected notices – are yet to happen," said Corbett.

The stress and uncertainty is taking a toll on the public service, he added, especially when co-workers have to compete with each other.

"The morale is dipping to an all-time low," said Corbett. "People are very worried about their jobs."

The Public Service Alliance of Canada already had 13,000 of its members in 41 different government departments and agencies issued notices in previous rounds of announcements before today.