Many employers in Manitoba are starting to ease up on wage restraints after a year of freezes due to the recession, but still at only about half the rate of average increases nationally.
Statistics Canada reported Thursday wages in the province were up 2.2 per cent in June compared with the year before, but up four per cent nationally, the largest year-over-year increase since February 2008.
At the beginning of the year, the forecast was that as many as 10 per cent of manufacturing firms in the province were planning to freeze wages in 2010, said Colleen Coates, competition practice leader at People First HR Services in Winnipeg.
"Eight months in, we are finding that in fact the number is around two per cent," she said in an interview. "Last year, manufacturing took a huge hit and about one-third of firms froze wages."
The increases come in the face of continuing uncertainty about where the economy is headed.
Although Manitoba's increase was the lowest in the country in June, over the last two years weekly earnings in this province have increased 4.7 per cent compared to the national increase of 3.2 per cent. But at $785.19, Manitoba's average weekly earnings are still the fourth-lowest in the country.
Nationally, wages have risen over seven straight months and while Manitoba has lagged behind the national rate, wages in the province did not take as big a hit in 2009 as they did elsewhere.
But they are hardly results to crow about, according to a business spokesman.
Dave Angus, president of the Winnipeg Chamber of Commerce, points out that early in the 2000s, Saskatchewan's weekly earnings surpassed Manitoba's and they have not looked back since.
"What we are concerned about is that there is no strategy here to attract high-wage jobs," he said. "Combine that with the higher personal income tax rates and we end up with a high-tax, low-wage environment when what you want is low tax and high wages."
While conditions are improving, recovery is not a straightforward matter, especially in Manitoba.
The province has stood out in a few recent Statistics Canada reports in a fairly poor light.
This was the only jurisdiction with more people on employment insurance in June than in June 2009, while there was a double-digit decline nationally.
Thursday's survey of employment and hours worked also showed there were fewer people working in Manitoba in June than there were a year ago, not counting the self-employed.
But job-seeker Carol Gibson is undaunted by that accounting. The 48-year-old grandmother from Peguis First Nation is hopeful her re-entry to the workforce will go smoothly.
After enrolling in university and earning a degree in native studies when she had finished raising four children, Gibson said she understands the labour market is competitive. But she is optimistic she will be able to establish herself in a career in health care. "I got some great help getting my resumé in shape from the people at CAHRD (the Centre for Aboriginal Human Resource Development) and I got an interview very quickly," she said.
While Gibson has some solid educational creden tials to back up her job search, Marileen Bartlett, executive director at CAHRD, said employers are demanding higher educational standards and many aboriginal applicants continue to fall short of those minimum levels.
With the national economy slowing, the numbers contained in Statistics Canada's June report are "unsustainable," says Benjamin Tal, senior economist at CIBC World Markets.
"In fact, I expect a significant softening in wage increases over the next six to 12 months and I think we will be lucky to see wage increases that keep up with inflation," Tal said.
-- with files from Postmedia News