Technology Science - Environment Canada layoffs spook civil servants

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More than two dozen Environment Canada employees have received layoff notices, spurring fears among federal civil servants that thousands of job losses loom as the government struggles to balance its budget.

The notices were handed out this week to at least 28 scientists at the department, said Bill Pynn, president of the Union of Environment Workers, a branch of the Public Service Alliance of Canada. The personnel were all term employees, many of them nearing permanent status.

John Gordon, president of the Public Service Alliance of Canada, says the Tories changed their tune as soon as they won a majority government. John Gordon, president of the Public Service Alliance of Canada, says the Tories changed their tune as soon as they won a majority government. (Pawel Dwulit/Canadian Press)

"The department actually has committed to those individuals to hire them on full-time, and I think it’s absolutely deplorable that they would let those individuals go knowing they’re so close to a permanent offer,” Pynn said.

The news came as a disappointment to Meghan Thomson, a chemist in the auto emissions division at Environment Canada, who, after almost three years, was set to become a permanent employee at the end of August.

“Environment Canada was like my dream job. And I felt so lucky to be a part of this and I really wanted to make a difference,” said Thomson, 30. “It hurts. There was no indication before this that my job was going to end."

During the recent federal election campaign, the Conservatives vowed to slash $11 billion in government expenditures through 2014, but played down the possibility of layoffs in the civil service, saying it would be reduced mainly via retirements and attrition.

Pynn and other officials in the Public Service Alliance of Canada, the largest union for federal civil servants, now say they expect many more job cuts to follow.

'It's ridiculous'

A media report last week suggested the Department of National Defence is contemplating 2,100 job cuts to its bureaucracy over the next three years.

Defence Minister Peter MacKay wouldn’t confirm the figure, but acknowledged the department is “looking at ways to achieve efficiencies” among its civilian employees.

Five curators were also told Thursday they’re being let go from the National Gallery of Canada as it wrestles with a $400,000 deficit.

PSAC president John Gordon accused the Conservatives of hiding their agenda on the campaign trail in March and April.

“During the election they were saying, ‘Oh, we're going to be doing everything through attrition.’ The minute they got the results, the tone changed,” Gordon said. “I think we're in for huge cuts in the short term in the public service, and it's ridiculous.”

Ottawa axed 45,000 civil service jobs in 1995 as part of the then Liberal government’s efforts to balance the books. While union leaders aren’t fearing cuts that drastic, some have said the number could approach 30,000.

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