Employment rose in Manitoba for the third consecutive month in July, according to federal labour force statistics released Friday.
The province saw employment increase by more than 12,000 jobs from June to July — a two per cent rise — while the unemployment rate in this province fell 1.9 percentage points to 8.2 per cent, according to Statistics Canada’s most recent labour force survey.
Manitoba now has the lowest unemployment rate in Canada, according to the survey, which was conducted in mid-July and released Friday.
While more than 60 per cent of Manitobans who lost their jobs due to the COVID-19 pandemic over the past five months were back at work by the middle of July, Premier Brian Pallister said it’s too early for a “victory lap.”
A year ago, unemployment in Manitoba was five per cent, and there are still at least 34,000 fewer people working now than at this time last year, according to Statistics Canada.
“The success that we’ve had in terms of economic restart is entirely due to our willingness to follow the fundamentals that our public health officials have repeated ad infinitum to us,” Pallister said at a news conference Friday morning.
“Health security is necessary for economic recovery,” he said. “These two things are intertwined.”
Transportation industry struggling
Pandemic public health orders and a diminished economy continue to weigh heavily on many industries. Some that hoped to see business bounce back throughout the summer months are still struggling.
The hospitality and restaurant industry, which was hit hard during the initial months of the pandemic, is slowly recovering as health orders relax. Restaurants and hotels are employing 9.5 fewer people than they did a year ago, Statistics Canada said.
The labour force survey also shows the transportation and warehousing industry is faring poorly, with employment in that sector down 12.2 per cent compared to the same time last year.
“As the economy goes, so goes trucking,” said Terry Shaw, executive director of the Manitoba Trucking Association. “With the depressed economy in Manitoba, Canada and across North America, our industry is seeing depressed volumes as well.”
Bus companies are suffering even more.
“There’s absolutely nothing to do,” said Niel Henry, who owns Prairie Coach Charter Services in Brandon. “I’ve got no employees on staff. Zero. Not even myself.… Everybody’s been laid off.”
Henry represents a coalition of Manitoba charter bus companies that provide transportation services for amateur sports teams, school and university groups, wedding parties, and corporate staff outings, among other groups.
“Tourism and events is the big thing and that’s our problem — all events have been cancelled.”
The cultural, recreation and tourism sector that feeds the bus companies has seen employment drop 12.9 per cent compared to this time last year.
Henry said he has taken advantage of all available federal and provincial pandemic assistance programs. But with no business prospects on the horizon, he said his industry will require a bailout.
Province extends support, industry wants surgical approach
Pallister announced Friday the province will extend the deadline for applications for its small-business wage subsidy program.
The Manitoba Gap Protection Program, which offers businesses one-time support of $6,000, will now accept applications until Oct. 31.
The province has set aside a total of $256 million worth of support for businesses and employment, but the industry response has been lukewarm. To date, only about $100 million from these programs has been paid out, according to the province.
“We believe the province’s programming is well intended, but we’re not surprised it’s undersubscribed,” said Shaw. He said $6,000 doesn’t do much for trucking companies that on average spend $5,000 every month on fuel for a single truck.
Pallister said he doesn’t think the programs need to be adjusted to make them more attractive to businesses.
“The programs were designed to assist small- and medium-sized companies, chiefly, and they’re not going to be of great assistance to members of the Manitoba Business Council, as an example, who employ thousands of people,” he said.
“That’s where the federal programs were designed.”
Some industries, however, are asking for sector-specific support.
The Manitoba Trucking Association said it has asked the province to allow its members to register vehicles on a quarterly basis, instead of a year ahead of time.
“They don’t want to have to forecast … 364 days from now, how many trucks they’ll need and pay for it in advance,” Shaw said.
“We’re not looking for a handout. We’re just looking for policy reform in support of cash flow.”
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