Federal civil service hit with 1,700 more job notices

A fresh wave of "affected" notices has washed over the federal civil service as the Harper government's ongoing downsizing of departments and agencies continues.

Bulk of Thursday's cuts affect information technology workers at Service Canada

Federal civil servants with Human Resources and Skills Development Canada, the RCMP and other agencies are receiving a fresh wave of letters informing them they're affected by downsizing. (Canadian Press)

A fresh wave of over 1,700 letters were issued Thursday morning to more federal civil servants whose jobs will be affected in the Harper government's ongoing downsizing of government departments and agencies.

So far, CBC News has been made aware of letters issued to some 1,600 employees with Human Resources and Skills Development Canada (HRSD), the department responsible for administering the employment insurance (EI) system, old age security (OAS) benefits and the Canada Pension Plan (CPP.)

An additional 149 civillian employees of the RCMP have also received letters saying they're affected by the job cuts, along with 20 employees from the Parole Board of Canada and two employees from the RCMP Public Complaints Commission and Publice Servants Disclosure Protection Tribunal.

Some 900 of the employees receiving letters at HRSD are represented by the Professional Institute of the Public Service of Canada (PIPSC), including 886 information technology workers who support Service Canada's administration of EI, OAS, CPP and other benefits.

Seven nurses working as medical adjudicators who determine applicants' eligibility to receive CPP disability benefits are also receiving notices.

A further 589 information technology employees receiving affected notices at HRSD are represented by the Public Service Alliance of Canada (PSAC.)  Of these, 482 jobs are in the National Capital Region, and 123 are directly involved with processing and providing service to the public for EI, OAS and CPP, a PSAC press release says.

The RCMP employees affected are represented by PSAC as well, and are located both at national headquarters and at divisional headquarters across the country. These employees work in police officer recruitment, member pay, forensic labs and record-keeping.

In late May, the government announced it planned to close RCMP forensic labs in Halifax, Winnipeg and Regina, consolidating its services in Edmonton, Vancouver and Ottawa.

The Canadian Association of Professional Employees also reported Thursday that 24 more of its employees had received affected notices, including 20 more HRSD IT workers in the National Capital Region.  Four others at the Canadian International Development Agency, Fisheries and Oceans Canada, Treasury Board Secretariat and Privy Council Office received letters over the summer.

Step towards privatization of services?

Alyson Queen, a spokesperson for Human Resources Minister Diane Finley, told CBC News the changes were part of the department's efforts to "reduce duplication and unnecessary administration" and operate more efficiently.

The department wants to "standardize" its IT systems, Queen said, and "reduce the IT support it requires internally."

Queen said these changes do not affect front line services to Canadians but are "internal in nature." Following the restructuring, she said, many of the employees will be re-assigned.

The NDP drew attention Thursday to the planned closure of 28 regional Canada Revenue Agency counters on October 1, leaving only 21 offices across Canada.

Speaking at a press conference in Ottawa, NDP critics Nycole Turmel and Mathieu Ravignat said Canadians are worried about the economic impact of the potential job losses.

"Don't tell me this doesn't have an impact on people," said Turmel, who was the head of PSAC before running for office and represents a Quebec riding where many federal civil servants live.

"Canadians should be worried with regards to having access to services they paid for," said Ravignat, saying the government is not communicating very well. "It's the responsibility of the government when it cuts to tell Canadians what impact it's going to have."

Government-wide, some 5,200 PIPSC members have now received notices their jobs are affected.

PIPSC vice-president Debi Daviau expressed concerns about the impact of these latest job notices on the service provided to Canadians. The union is fearful its membership could be replaced with contract workers.

"It may well be yet another step towards outsourcing public service work to the private sector, where data privacy and security are an issue," Daviau said in a PIPSC news release issued Thursday.

In early August, HRSD posted a notice of procurement on a government contracting website seeking an evaluation of the "cost-effectiveness" of the government's administration of services like EI, OAS and CPP, "including external benchmarking."

This is the second round of job notices affecting HRSD employees. It's the first large hit to PIPSC union members at this department, but Thursday's letters bring to 3,500 the total number of PSAC employees at HRSD who have received notices.

More employees 'affected' than actually cut

PSAC says that over 5,000 employees, or close to 22.5 per cent of the department's workforce, have been served notice they're affected by job cuts – but HRSD has told all the unions representing departmental workers that only 2,100 positions will be eliminated by this downsizing overall.

The 2012 federal budget outlined the government's intention to eliminate some 19,200 jobs in the federal civil service. However, far more are receiving notices that their jobs are affected by this downsizing because of the way the government is implementing the job cuts.

The government expects to reach part of its downsizing target through voluntary retirements and severances.

Of those layoffs that remain necessary to achieve the desired job cut levels, sometimes many employees are receiving letters inviting them to compete for fewer positions. Not everyone who receives a letter will be laid off, but they are all "affected" by the process in terms of positions at their level in their department having to be scaled back through a range of formal job competitions or informal evaluations.

In an email to his staff provided to CBC News Thursday, Charles Nixon, the assistant deputy minister of citizen service for Service Canada, outlined the cuts to HRSD's IT workers.

Nixon said 992 of his employees were being informed of their affected status, which could include the 886 IT specialists PIPSC is reporting to the media. Non-unionized positions are also affected.

However, his email suggests the actual layoffs in his branch won't be nearly that high: some 718 of the employees receiving letters could still have a job "following various staffing processes that will be taking place this fall."

"I recognize that this is a very difficult time, particularly for employees who are facing an uncertain future," Nixon wrote, asking employees who are not affected to offer support and understanding for colleagues now starting the workforce adjustment process.

Most of the information known to date about the numbers of federal civil servants affected by federal job cuts comes from public-sector unions that are compiling the numbers of notices received by their members.

Repeated requests to the government for concrete or final numbers of actual layoffs set for each department or agency have not been met with any additional information, save for the government-wide job cut totals announced in the budget.