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Good labour force news a temporary breather, business council says

The slightly better news out of Statistics Canada’s monthly labour force survey Friday may only be a temporary respite for the B.C. economy, according to the Business Council of B.C.

The slightly better news out of Statistics Canada’s monthly labour force survey Friday may only be a temporary respite for the B.C. economy, according to the Business Council of B.C.

Jock Finlayson, executive vice-president of the BCBC, said the good news is that the province added 15,000 jobs in August, but it’s tempered by the fact that the momentum of job recovery is “clearly flagging.”

“The low-hanging fruit of reviving employment as people get called back to work has largely played out with the government’s reopening plan now three to four months in,” Finlayson said.

“It will be much tougher now to grind out additional job gains over the rest of the year.”

That leaves B.C. with a serious hole to climb out of.

The province lost an estimated 400,000 jobs as a result of the pandemic and the economic lockdown, and through to the end of August it has only managed to bring back 250,000 of those positions.

“We’re still down 150,000 jobs — that’s the equivalent of three years’ employment growth in a normal economy,” Finlayson said.

That’s evident in the numbers from Statistics Canada on Friday, which showed the capital region’s unemployment rate improved to 10.3 per cent in August, down from 11.6 in July, though miles off the 3.3 per cent it registered in August 2019.

Statistics Canada’s Vincent Ferrao said things are generally improving on the Island — there are still fewer people working compared with last year, but the numbers of employed are increasing, with 189,0000 now employed in Victoria compared with 183,600 in July.

Ferrao noted the construction industry in Victoria currently employs 2,300 more people now than it did in August last year, while the public administration sector is up 2,000 positions compared with last year.

He said the state of the rest of the labour force does not compare favourably with 2019, but shows some movement compared with July and June of this year.

The retail and wholesale trade sector currently employs 1,200 fewer people than it did last August — in July, it was down 2,600 people from last year; and the accommodation and food-services industry currently employs 5,500 fewer than it did at this time last year, though in July it was down 6,800 jobs compared to July 2019, and in June that number was 9,200 fewer than the year previous.

Finlayson warns a wave of layoffs is likely on the horizon in the fall and into early 2021 — the result of companies that are just hanging on finding they can’t survive in the new environment without trimming staff.

He expects it will hit retail and food services first, but will follow the American example, where hotels and airlines will start laying off workers.

Finlayson said without a highly effective vaccine that is widely available, everyone is in for a bumpy economic ride.

And he warns the province could have as many as 120,000 fewer people working at the end of 2020 than it did at the start of this year.

“It’s not all doom and gloom,” he said.

“But the COVID shock was the biggest hit to an economy in my lifetime.

“It knocked everyone off their feet, and people are starting to get back up — but they are staggering.”

aduffy@timescolonist.com