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OTTAWA (Reuters) - More than 8,000 Canadian federal government workers will receive notice this week that they may lose their jobs due to budget cuts, including about 2,300 employees at Statistics Canada, unions said on Monday.
The Conservative government announced in its March 29 budget that it would cut operational spending across all government departments and agencies by 6.9 percent, eliminating 19,200 public service jobs, or about 5 percent of total federal employment, as it seeks to balance its budget by 2015-16.
"We're astounded by how quickly and mercilessly this government is moving to put people out of work and cut the services Canadians across the country rely on," said John Gordon, national president of the Public Service Alliance of Canada (PSAC).
Since the budget, more than 18,000 letters have been sent to employees in dozens of departments.
The notices do not necessarily mean each employee will be laid off but that their position is "affected". The notices trigger a complex process outlined in the collective agreements whereby management must try to shuffle some workers to new positions, or offer retraining or early retirement.
Nobody knows exactly how many of those affected will end up out of work. The process could take several weeks or even months.
Union leaders say the secrecy surrounding the cuts and the difficulty obtaining details from the government is damaging on its own.
"Make no mistake about it, this will hurt the economy," Gordon said.
PSAC reported 3,872 of its members were notified on Monday that their jobs are on the line, for a total of 11,957 such notices since the budget.
The Canadian Association of Professional Employees (CAPE) has received a total of 3,229 letters to date and the Professional Institute of the Public Service of Canada (PIPSC) said 3,000 of its members have been affected.
At Statistics Canada, the federal agency responsible for economic indicators as well as social data, analysis and the census, the cuts could lead to less data available for financial market players, researchers and business.
The agency was already under pressure from a previous budget freeze and from controversy over the government's decision to eliminate the long-form census questionnaire, which led the agency's chief statistician to resign in 2010.
"This is a hard-hit organization. It's been targeted for a while," said Claude Poirier, president of CAPE.
"It's like announcing to a small town that there's a bomb that's going to explode and there's no time to evacuate. They're just going to disappear."
Finance Minister Jim Flaherty says his government has taken a balanced approach to tackling the deficit and that many of the job losses will occur through attrition or by eliminating wasteful back-office activities.
Reporting by Louise Egan; Editing by Peter Galloway