Length of average work week fell to record low in March as COVID-19 hit


The length of the average work week for employees paid by the hour sank to its lowest level on record in March, as COVID-19 drastically reduced the amount of paid work available for anyone fortunate enough to still have a job.

Statistics Canada reported Thursday in its Survey on Payroll Employment and Hours that the average number of weekly hours for hourly paid employees declined by 1.1 hours to 29.5 in March, the lowest level on record.

In a bizarre twist, the data agency reported that the average weekly paycheque actually increased, to $1,053. But that’s only because the massive job losses experienced during the month disproportionately hit lower-paid workers, so the average pay packet of those still employed looked comparatively bigger.

Almost 1 million jobs lost

Thursday’s numbers are the second of two monthly reports compiled by Statistics Canada on the job market, and they reinforce just how record-setting March’s job losses were.

The latest report says 914,500 Canadians lost their job in March. Statistics Canada had previously reported that more than one million Canadians had lost a job during the month, but that claim was based on an online and telephone survey the agency compiles.

The new data is based on tax remittances from the Canada Revenue Agency and other administrative data from government sources.

Every province lost jobs, and just about every sector of the economy did, too.

About one quarter of the job losses came in accommodation and food services, which lost 256,609 positions. Next was retail at 103,712 jobs. Combined, those two sectors made up 41 per cent of all the jobs lost.

But not all sectors were as hard-hit.

Jobs and salaries were virtually unchanged in the relatively higher-paying public administration and finance and insurance sectors.

“Workers in these sectors may not usually have duties requiring close physical contact with others, are more likely to have the option to telework, and, as such, may have been less impacted by the economic shutdown,” the report says.

Average weekly earnings in the finance and insurance sector actually rose by 4.7 per cent during the month.

Overtime way up in health care

Surprisingly, 62,000 fewer people had paid work in the health-care sector, but most of those were in non-essential health-care services such as dentist offices, many of which shut down for all but urgent matters.

The number of people employed in hospitals was basically unchanged, but overtime for those workers increased by about 25 per cent “as COVID-19 was spreading and the workload at hospitals had increased,” Statistics Canada said.

Similarly, employment in community care facilities for the elderly was basically unchanged, but overtime pay increased by 19.3 per cent.

Employment in child-care facilities declined by 16,000 people as most daycares across the country were closed.



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