Greater Victoria jobless rate up again, hitting 11.1%

Greater Victoria’s unemployment rate increased for the fifth straight month in July as it hit 11.1 per cent last month according to numbers released by Statistics Canada Friday.

The monthly labour force survey showed the region added 5,200 jobs last month, but the total labour force increased by 6,500 at the same time, leading to a slight increase in the unemployment rate. The unemployment rate was 11 per cent in June.

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The rate has climbed since February, when it was 3.2 per cent, as the economic effects of the pandemic took hold.

The rate jumped from 4.6 per cent in March to 7.2 in April and then to 10 per cent in May.

Provincial Minister of Jobs Michelle Mungall focused on the positive Friday as she noted the province’s economic restart plan has started to translate into jobs.

The province created 70,200 jobs last month, meaning when added to gains in June the economy has recovered about 58 per cent of the jobs lost to the pandemic in April and May.

The province estimates it has lost 164,900 jobs since the start of the pandemic.

“B.C.’s restart plan continues to create positive signs for our economy, but we still have a long way to go as we build a strong recovery,” Mungall said. “This month saw significant job gains in some of the hardest hit sectors as more and more businesses reopen their doors. Wholesale and retail trade, along with food services and accommodation, increased by 48,300 jobs in July.”

Recovery has been slow to come to some parts of the economy, and the decimated tourism industry warns there is more bad news on the horizon.

“I expect to see hundreds of terminations from our major employers, particularly on the management side, ahead of the Aug. 30 extension of the temporary layoff provisions,” said Destination Greater Victoria chief executive Paul Nursey.

He said the region’s tourism industry, hit hard by border closures, tight finances and directives to stick close to home due to the pandemic, has rebounded by 30 or 40 per cent, but it is braced for a tough off-season.

“Yeah, we’re seeing some recovery but everyone is preparing to hunker down and get through the winter and those very difficult layoff decisions are starting to happen now,” he said.

The province agreed to extend temporary layoff provisions until the end of August to allow employers and employees to work out agreements during the pandemic while still protecting a worker’s right to receive severance pay.

One of Victoria’s other large employers, the construction industry, faces a different problem — a lack of skilled trades.

Rory Kulmala, chief executive of the Vancouver Island Construction Association, said after initial adjustments were made at work sites around the Island when the pandemic hit, construction crews really didn’t skip a beat.

“It’s been steady. Pre-COVID-19 we were riding strong inertia of construction and were expecting a banner year, and for the most part we are still going gangbusters,” he said, noting there are cranes dotting the lower Island and new projects still coming on line.

But labour is still an issue as the country, pre-COVID, had been dealing with a large segment of the workforce retiring and not enough skilled workers coming along to fill the void. Kulmala said that hasn’t changed, and they are also dealing with some general labourers preferring to stick with CERB instead of returning to the work site. “Even if there was less work, we’re still doing it with less people,” Kulmala said. “The demand is still there.”

There was some good economic news across the country as well Friday with the national labour market gaining 419,000 jobs last month as more parts of the economy were allowed to reopen.

The national unemployment rate was 10.9 per cent in July, down from the 12.3 per cent recorded in June and sliding further away from the record-high 13.7 per cent in May.

But underneath the figures there was new data about the unequal impact of the historic shifts in the workforce as the statistics agency reported that rates were much higher than average for visible-minority workers.

South Asian, Arab and Black workers had seasonally unadjusted unemployment rates of 17 per cent or more, with rates even higher for women than men, compared with a rate of 9.3 per cent for people not identified as either a visible minority or Indigenous.

aduffy@timescolonist.com

— With files from The Canadian Press

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