New round of federal public service cuts coming today

A new round of job cuts in the federal public service will be announced today and hundreds of employees will learn whether their jobs are at risk.
Diane Finley's department, Human Resources and Skills Development Canada, is one of the departments that is expected to issue notices to employees on Wednesday that their jobs could be lost. (Adrian Wyld/Canadian Press)

Hundreds of federal public servants are expected to learn today whether they could lose their jobs.

Almost a dozen departments and agencies will be informing employees this week that their jobs have been declared "affected" because of budget cuts.

In its March budget, the federal government said 19,200 public service sector positions would be cut over the next three years in an effort to find government savings of $5.2 billion.

Thousands of employees have already received notices that their jobs are "affected" through previous waves of announcements that started soon after the budget. But several departments haven't yet announced how many jobs will be cut and employees have been anxiously awaiting news since March.

Some of the departments that will be announcing their cuts for the first time this week, or further cuts, include: Human Resources and Skills Development Canada, Fisheries Canada, Transport Canada, Industry Canada, Justice, National Defence, Infrastructure Canada, Public Works and Government Services Canada and the Canada Revenue Agency.

Gary Corbett, head of one of the unions that represents public servants, said Tuesday he expects about 500 of his members to be given affected notices starting Wednesday. The unions are given 48 hours' notice by the government. About 3,000 members of the Professional Institute of the Public Service of Canada union have already been given notices. Corbett said he expects rounds of cuts to continue to trickle out over several more months.

"I do not think it is the last round," he said. "I think there will probably be some more announcements over the summer."

Once it is decided how many positions are to be eliminated, employees may be declared "affected" and have to compete with their co-workers to keep one of the remaining jobs. Other employees are declared surplus right away.

Laid-off employees, however, aren't necessarily off the payroll immediately. There are several options available to them through their union agreements. Efforts are made, for example, to place them elsewhere within the public service and it can take up to a year before an employee declared surplus might actually be out of work.

Stressful process

"This is a three-year budget remember, you won't see everything in the first year," Corbett said.

The union head said the competition process that some employees have been going through is stressful. Five people in one office may be fighting for three jobs, he said.

"You can imagine what that does," said Corbett. "You might have had lunch with the person the day before and then all of a sudden you're a competitor for your future."

The Public Service Alliance of Canada, the other major union that represents federal workers, also confirmed it is expecting news this week of more of its members being affected.

PSAC and PIPSC have filed grievances with the government, alleging that many departments are not living up to the terms negotiated in workforce adjustment agreements with the unions. The agreements allow for employees to swap jobs with non-affected employees who want to leave their jobs. It is up to managers to decide whether the job exchange is allowed.

The unions are saying that some departments are refusing to allow job exchanges or have failed to facilitate the option in the first place. The unions are encouraging employees whose requests have been denied to file grievances.

Fear that tax centres will close

Another union leader who represents Canada Revenue Agency employees said his members have been stressed for weeks while waiting for news and hearing rumours about the possibility of taxation centres being closed.

Robert Campbell, national president of the Union of Taxation Employees, said he's tried to get answers from CRA but has been kept in the dark.

"This is the first time we've never been able to have conversations with the agency," he said. "It's all been kept confidential. This is the weirdest way I've ever seen any of this stuff ever done.

"Normally there are conversations and we can put some input in but this is all behind closed doors with nobody knowing what's going on and rumours running rampant from one end of the country to the other," said Campbell.

He said the decisions about the budget cuts seem to be coming from Prime Minister Stephen Harper's office.

"Everything is coming out of the prime minister's office. The PMO seems to be controlling everything," he said.

NDP MP Ruth Ellen Brosseau also tried questioning the government about a rumour that the tax centre in Shawinigan, Que., might be slated to close due to the budget cuts.

She asked National Revenue Minister Gail Shea in question period in the House of Commons in March whether it would be closing its doors or not and Shea responded that "no final decisions have been made." NDP MP Robert Aubin also asked about Shawinigan and Shea said no decisions on closing any centres had been made.

Brosseau told the House of Commons on June 11 that she had kept trying get answers from Shea about Shawinigan so she could dispel the rumour.

"There are persistent rumours and fears. The employees of the centre are understandably worried. What we are asking for today are clear answers," she said.

Brosseau said she also asked Shea for any studies on the impact of closing Shawinigan, any performance reviews of the centre, and when a decision about whether to keep it open or close it would be made and she received no answers.

Brosseau said she was concerned that the rumour of Shawinigan's closure wasn't denied by anyone in the government.

The tax centre in former prime minister Jean Chretien's hometown employs up to 1,400 people at peak times and is the major employer in the town. A demonstration was held by workers there on June 14 as part of public service week. They held signs and chanted "no cuts, no closures" outside the office.

Campbell said when the union has asked CRA if Shawinigan or any of the other six tax centres are slated for closure it was told that everything is up for consideration. Other than Winnipeg, the centres are located in small towns and cities and cutting jobs would have a deep impact on communities, he said.

In addition to the seven centres where millions of tax returns are processed every year, there are also nine CRA call centres and 46 tax offices across the country.

"We're hoping none of them are being closed," he said. CRA employs more than 40,000 people across the country.