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Wages of non-unionized 'Tobans to beat national average: report

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Salaries for non-unionized workers in Manitoba are expected to rise at one of the fastest paces in the country -- an average of 3.3 per cent -- in 2013, according to a new forecast from the Conference Board of Canada.

In its Mid-Year Pulse Check report released Tuesday, the Ottawa-based think-tank said resource-rich Saskatchewan and Alberta are the only provinces expected to see bigger average salary increases this year, at 4.0 per cent and 3.9 per cent respectively. That compares to a projected national average growth rate of 3.0 per cent.

Ian Cullwick, the board's vice-president, leadership and human resources research, said regional pressures are helping to push Manitoba salaries up at a faster pace than those in Eastern Canada.

"I would argue that Manitoba is getting caught up in the higher (salary) trends we're seeing in Alberta and Saskatchewan," he said, particularly with skilled tradespeople and workers with specialized skills.

He said tradespeople tend to be more willing to go where the money is and Manitoba employers risk losing them to the other Prairie provinces if they don't offer reasonably competitive salaries.

Manitoba also has a number of higher-paying industries -- construction, oil and gas, mining and manufacturing, for example -- that are doing well, he said. That's also helping to boost average salaries.

The board said all three Prairie provinces have had their salary-growth projections revised upwards since its last employer survey last summer. Back then, the projections were 3.8 per cent for Alberta, 3.7 per cent for Saskatchewan and 3.0 per cent for Manitoba.

Quebec, Ontario and British Columbia, on the other hand, have had their salary-growth projections revised downward by 2.7 per cent, 2.5 per cent and 2.5 per cent respectively. The projection for the Atlantic provinces remains at 3.0 per cent.

"Economic growth is uneven across the country. While employers are feeling the pinch in Ontario and other parts of Eastern Canada, the oil and gas sector is pushing up wages in Alberta and Saskatchewan," Cullwick said.

"Salaries in oil and gas this year are rising slightly faster than we projected," he added "and labour markets in Western Canada are tightening. We have heard from natural resources firms that virtually all of them are having trouble finding the skilled workers they need."

The board said workers in the oil and gas sectors in Saskatchewan and Alberta -- people such as plumbers and pipefitters, electricians, welders, engineers and project managers -- are expected to see the highest average salary increases this year, at 4.5 per cent.

Workers in hospitality, tobacco and manufacturing industries can expect lower salary increases of 2.3 per cent this year. Retail workers can expect a projected average increase of 2.2 per cent.

"In hospitality and retail, they have more transient workforces," said Cullwick. "They've got part-timers and contract workers. They've got part-time workers that are students as well."

The board said private-sector workers in Canada are also expected to fare a little better than public-sector workers this year, with projected average salary gains of 3.1 per cent versus 2.9 per cent.

Cullwick said it's a similar story in Manitoba. "I would say it (salary growth) is largely private-sector driven in your case."

-- with files from Canadian Press

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition February 13, 2013 B5

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