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Prime Minister Stephen Harper and Finance Minister Jim Flaherty enter the House of Commons to deliver the federal budget on March 29, 2012.Dave Chan

The Harper government's austerity budget will start cutting a swath through the federal government this week as bureaucrats begin receiving letters informing them their position is being eliminated.

One public-sector union says it has received word that employees in the Department of National Defence and three government agencies will be sent formal notices on Wednesday telling them their posts will disappear.

In the March 29 budget, the Conservatives announced that the government will chop 19,200 public-service jobs as part of a bid to balance the budget in several years. About 7,000 are expected to be eliminated through attrition – as people retire – leaving about 12,000 jobs facing the axe.

The letters that unlucky bureaucrats are beginning to receive are not layoff notices and not everyone who receives one will be out of a job. Those affected may be able to find work elsewhere in their department as people retire, for instance, and it will take until at least this summer before Ottawa begins handing out pink slips.

Gary Corbett, president of the Professional Institute of the Public Service of Canada, said the notices will nevertheless turn "people's lives topsy-turvy" when they learn they could lose their jobs.

Departments and agencies have been bracing for cuts for months. As part of pre-budget preparations, each had submitted recommendations, as requested, to the Harper government on how Ottawa could cut 5 per cent, or 10 per cent, from their respective operations.

Statistics Canada, the national statistics agency, informed its staff late last week that it has been ordered to chop $33.9-million from its planned spending by April 1, 2014.

That's a cut of roughly 7.5 per cent when compared to Statscan's estimated budgetary spending for 2012-13, which was previously pegged at $454.7-million

"This reduction will be implemented progressively, beginning with $8.3-million on April 1, 2012, rising to $18.3-million on April 1, 2013, in order to achieve the full reduction by April 1, 2014," chief statistician Wayne Smith wrote employees last week in a memo.

Mr. Smith acknowledged this will mean job cuts at Statscan – an abandonment of the agency's no-layoff policy.

"The actions to be taken involve a mixture of new efficiency measures and program reductions. Achieving the required savings will necessarily mean a reduction in Statistics Canada's work force."

Mr. Corbett, whose union represents more than 57,000 professionals and scientists in the public service, is warning Ottawa against cutting staff in the safety and security fields, such as food inspectors, scientists and financial auditors.

His union will be documenting what services Canadians will lose through the cuts at the website

One cabinet minister suggested last Friday that the cuts will be more spread out across Canada than previously thought. Foreign Affairs Minister John Baird told a business audience that of the 12,200 job reductions, only 4,800 will occur in the Ottawa area. The Ottawa-area minister said these would be spread out over three years.