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Canadian Employers Desperate For Workers; Offering Signing Bonuses, Wage Hikes, Incentives For Low-Paying Jobs

New Brunswick: A trip to the mall in Fredericton led to much more than a pair of new shoes for Hannah McLeod. The 21-year-old saw a hiring sign at a shoe store, Journeys, and decided to apply. At the time, McLeod was making $15 an hour at a potato-processing plant in Florenceville-Bristol, N.B., northwest of the city.

Source: Hannah McLeod/CBC

She had no experience in retail and assumed that for selling shoes, she would get the provincial minimum wage, which is currently $11.75 in New Brunswick, though it will reach $13.75 next October. But after her interview with Journeys, she was offered a better job than she expected — and for more money.

McLeod had told the store that, if hired, she would accept $12.50 an hour. When the district manager called, he instead offered her the assistant manager’s job at $15.05. She was surprised.

“Sometimes it’s difficult, especially in retail, to get the pay you not only want but deserve,” McLeod said.

Journeys is not the only business trying to make jobs more attractive to potential workers. Third-quarter employment data from Statistics Canada show that labour shortages have increased across Canada in most sectors, with a concentration in low-paying occupations.

‘Not a bad outcome,’ economist says

As a result, employers from coast to coast are offering financial incentives for jobs traditionally viewed as low-skilled.

Source: Nojoud Al Mallees/CBC

Some retail and service companies are turning to signing bonuses to entice workers; McDonald’s franchises in Canada, for instance, are offering $200 signing bonuses, while other companies, such as Rogers and Indigo Park, advertise signing bonuses right in their job postings.

Labour economist Fabian Lange, with McGill University in Montreal, said while the reasons behind the high demand for labour aren’t entirely clear as we’ve settled into the pandemic, it has ultimately been a good thing for workers.

“It’s not a bad outcome in the economy, if we have a lot of productive jobs out there and wages have to go up,” Lange said. “These labour shortages can no longer be explained away with the notion that people simply aren’t working,” he added.

“If you compare the employment rate today with two years ago, we’re not that far off,” said Lange. “It’s not like there are fewer workers at work at the moment — not substantially, at least.”

In November 2019, Canada’s unemployment rate was 5.9 per cent. Two years later, it remains comparable, sitting at six per cent.

Demographic changes, including some retirements and fewer young workers available to go into service jobs, like retail, food and accommodation, might be partly to blame for the shortage, said Lange. But long-term trends have pointed in the direction of a tighter labour market, too.

Still, given that the bulk of wage growth over the last several decades was concentrated at the top of the labour market, Lange said, any shortage-induced wage hikes today are cause for celebration.

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