The economic effects from the COVID-19 pandemic are squeezing businesses struggling to find workers as ongoing labour shortages continue to stall certain sectors.
Businesses both big and small say they are struggling to find staff and employers have been offering more incentives to attract workers such as higher wages, bonuses, and flexible hours.
However, for those industries trying to recoup losses after months of lockdown, Jasmin Guenette of the Canadian Federation of Independent Business says perks may not be an option.
“Only 40 per cent of small businesses are making normal sales at the moment. So increasing wage is not something that is possible for many businesses,” Guenette previously told CTV News.
New research published last week from the Business Development Bank of Canada (BDC) reports that 64 per cent of Canadian businesses say labour shortages are limiting their growth.
According to Statistics Canada, there were 731,900 job vacancies in the second quarter of 2021. StatCan said these vacancies can be seen across all provinces, with the largest increases in Quebec, Ontario and B.C.
Overall, Deloitte Canada says that 30.3 per cent of Canadian businesses are reporting labour shortages.
Trevin Stratton, economic advisory leader and partner at Deloitte Canada, told CTVNews.ca the sectors that have been able to shift to a work-from-home model, such as finance, insurance and real estate, have seen “substantial job growth” throughout the pandemic.
“On the other hand, hard-hit sectors that rely on physical presence, like accommodation and food services, transportation and recreation and tourism, still have a way to go before being fully recovered from the pandemic,” Stratton said in an email on Tuesday.
Stratton explained that the relaxation of public health measures in recent months has allowed these sectors to increase their employment substantially, but further gains could be “limited by the unavailability of labour.”
While many industries have struggled to return to regular working capacity amid COVID-19, data shows that these sectors have the largest number of job vacancies in Canada:
HOSPITALITY AND FOOD SERVICE
As one of the sectors hardest hit by the COVID-19 pandemic, Deloitte Canada predicts that the labour shortages facing the hospitality and food service industry won’t be over anytime soon.
“We expect employment in accommodation and food services and information, culture and recreation to continue to experience substantial growth in 2022 but to remain below pre-pandemic levels for some time,” Stratton said.
According to data from Statistics Canada, the number of job vacancies in hospitality and food services increased by 11,600 from the second quarter of 2019 to the second quarter of 2021, reaching an all-time high of 89,100.
StatCan says this increase was “entirely” in the food services and drinking places subsector. The agency added that food counter attendants, kitchen helpers and related support occupations had the second largest increase in vacancies of any occupation over the two years in Canada.
The general manger of Italian restaurant Romeo’s in Victoria, B.C. says there is less incentive for Canadians to go back to waiting tables full-time when they can collect pandemic benefits instead.
“They say they can only work so many hours because they know if they pass a threshold of hours, they can’t collect subsidies on the back end,” Christopher Mavrikos told CTV News in September.
However, the BDC report suggests the phase out of the Canada Emergency Response Benefit and other programs like it won’t fix the labour problem.
While some sectors have lost thousands of jobs during the pandemic, BDC’s chief economist Pierre Cleroux says the pandemic didn’t create Canada’s labour shortage — it just made an existing problem worse. He said the key problem is demographics.
“Today, 16 per cent of Canadians are over 65. In the next five years, many Canadians are going to retire,” Cleroux said. “And not a lot of young people are entering the job market.”
While the pandemic has increased demand for health services, many nurses report having left the profession after the stress of COVID-19 made their jobs more difficult and less safe, creating a shortage of health-care workers in certain regions and even forcing rural areas to temporarily close hospital units.
According to Statistics Canada, health care and social assistance currently have the largest need for labour of any sector in the country.
StatCan says job vacancies in this sector increased by 40,800 from the second quarter of 2019 to the second quarter of 2021. The agency said the sector currently represents one in seven job vacancies in Canada.
Job vacancies for registered nurses and registered psychiatric nurses had the largest increase of all health-care occupations since 2019, according to StatCan. The agency notes that nearly half of vacancies for this occupation have been open for 90 days or more.
While there aren’t yet firm numbers, there are reports that the pandemic has increased burnout among highly-trained nurses, causing them to leave the profession at an alarming rate. Others have chosen to retire early due to stress.
Health advocates say keeping the skilled nurses with better staffing and more mental health supports could help address the problem, as well as putting an end to wage cuts and caps in the profession with campaigns underway in Ontario and Alberta against efforts to limit wage increases in the public sector.
MANUFACTURING AND CONSTRUCTION
Statistics Canada reported a record number of job vacancies in the manufacturing sector last month.
The agency says there were 65,900 manufacturing job vacancies in the second quarter of 2021, the highest number of vacancies for the sector since 2015. The increase was spread across several subsectors, with the largest gains in food manufacturing, such as meatpacking, and wood product manufacturing, according to StatCan.
The Canadian Meat Council — which represents Canada’s federally-registered meat packers and processing plants — reported in September that there are more than 4,000 empty butcher stations at meat production facilities countrywide, working out to an average job vacancy rate of more than 10 per cent.
Canadian meat packers say the shortage is in part due to the rules governing how many temporary foreign workers meat processing employers can employ at any one time and are lobbying the federal government to increase the current cap of 10 to 20 per cent, depending on the facility, to 30 per cent.
The construction industry has also reported a record number of job vacancies, especially in masonry, painting and electrical work.
According to StatCan, vacancies in construction increased to 62,600 in the second quarter of 2021, the highest number since 2015. Carpenters, construction trade helpers and labourers also accounted for a large portion of the rise in job vacancies, the agency said.
Job vacancies in retail trade increased to 84,300 in the second quarter of 2021, according to StatCan, with the largest gains in food and beverage stores, building material supply dealers and garden equipment shops.
By occupation, the agency said retail salespersons, store shelf stockers, clerks and order filers were among the top 10 occupations with the largest increase in vacancies from the second quarter of 2019 to the second quarter of 2021.
With ‘help wanted’ signs in many storefronts across the country, Charles Kay, owner of Montreal furniture store Prunelle, says the responsibility falls to the employer.
“Some employers are getting a little bit burnt out because there just isn’t… enough hand to get the job done,” he told CTV News.
Trucking HR Canada, a national, non-profit organization working to address workforce issues in the trucking and logistics sector, reports that there was an average of 18,000 truck driver vacancies in the second quarter of 2021.
According to its latest report, the trucking industry had a vacancy rate of five per cent at the end of 2020. In comparison, the vacancy rate across all occupations in Canada was 2.7 per cent.
The organization says the impacts of COVID-19, lack of foreign workers and poor working conditions have contributed to the increase in job vacancies. As well, Trucking HR Canada says these factors have contributed to and increase in older truckers retiring with not enough new drivers to replace them.
Trucking HR Canada noted that the trucker shortage will continue to put “pressure and stress on Canada’s economic recovery” if not quickly addressed.
“Trucking and logistics supports key economic sectors from retail/wholesale trade to construction, agriculture, forestry and mining, and more,” the organization wrote in its report. “One fact remains: the longer it takes to better address driver shortages – the longer it will take for full economic recovery.”
With files from The Canadian Press and CTV National News’ Vanessa Lee
U.N. plane aborts landing as air strike hits Ethiopia’s Tigray
An Ethiopian government air strike on the capital of the northern Tigray region on Friday forced a U.N. aid flight to abort a landing there, the United Nations said.
In neighboring Amhara region, people were fleeing intensified fighting.
Humanitarian sources and the Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF), which controls the area, said a university in the regional capital Mekelle was hit by the air strike.
Government spokesman Legesse Tulu said a former military base occupied by TPLF fighters was targeted, and he denied the university was hit.
Reuters was not able to independently confirm either account. TPLF-controlled Tigrai TV reported that 11 civilians were wounded in the air strike. It was at least the fourth day this week that Mekelle had been attacked.
The United Nations suspended all flights to Mekelle after a U.N. plane with 11 passengers had to abort landing on Friday.
The flight from Addis Ababa had been cleared by federal authorities but was told by the Mekelle airport control tower to abort the landing, U.N. spokesman Stephane Dujarric said
“This is the first time that we had a flight turn around, at least to my knowledge, in the recent past in Ethiopia because of air strikes on the ground,” senior U.N. aid official Gemma Connell, who heads U.N. humanitarian operations in southern and eastern Africa, told reporters in New York on Friday.
The passengers were aid workers traveling to a region where some 7 million people, including 5 million in Tigray, need humanitarian help, she said.
The flight safely returned to the Ethiopian capital Addis Ababa, Dujarric said.
‘THE WHOLE CITY IS PANICKING’
The two sides have been fighting for almost a year in a conflict that has killed thousands of people and displaced more than two million amid a power struggle between the TPLF and the central government of Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed in Addis Ababa.
The TPLF dominated the Horn of Africa country’s ruling party for decades before Abiy, who is not a Tigrayan, took office in 2018.
The government has stepped up air strikes on the Tigray capital as fighting has escalated in Amhara, a neighbouring region where the TPLF has seized territory that the government and allied armed Amhara armed groups are trying to recover.
Residents in Dessie, a city in Amhara, told Reuters people were fleeing, a day after a TPLF spokesperson said its forces were within artillery range of the town.
“The whole city is panicking,” a resident said, adding that people who could were leaving. He said he could hear the sound of heavy gunfire on Thursday night and into the morning, and that the bus fare to Addis Ababa, about 385 km (240 miles) to the south, had increased more than six-fold.
There are now more than 500,000 displaced people in the Amhara region, the National Disaster Risk Management Commission told Reuters.
Seid Assefa, a local official working at a coordination centre for displaced people in Dessie, said 250 people had fled there this week from fighting in the Girana area to the north.
“We now have a total of 900 (displaced people) here and we finished our food stocks three days ago.”
Leul Mesfin, medical director of Dessie Hospital, told Reuters two girls and an adult had died this week at his facility of wounds from artillery fire in the town of Wuchale, which both the government and the TPLF have described as the scene of heavy fighting over the past week.
(Reporting by Addis Ababa newsroomAdditional reporting and writing by Maggie Fick and Ayenat Mersie in Nairobi, additional reporting by Michelle Nichols in New York; Editing by John Stonestreet, Peter Graff, Alex Richardson, William Maclean)
Nigerian state to shut camps for people displaced by insurgency
Nigeria‘s Borno state, the epicentre of an ongoing Islamist insurgency, will shut all camps that are holding thousands of internally displaced persons by the end of the year, its governor said on Friday, citing improved security in the state.
The conflict between the insurgents and Nigerian’s armed forces has also spread to Chad and Cameroon and has left about 300,000 dead and millions dependent on aid, according to the United Nations.
Borno, which shares a border with Niger, Cameroon and Chad has for more than a decade been the foremost outpost of an insurgency led by Islamist group Boko Haram and later its offshoot Islamic State for West Africa Province (ISWAP).
Speaking after a meeting with President Muhammadu Buhari in Abuja, Borno governor Babgana Zulum said security had improved in the state so much that those living in camps in the state capital Maiduguri could return home.
“So far so good, Borno State government has started well and arrangements have been concluded to ensure the closure of all internally displaced persons camps that are inside Maiduguri metropolis on or before 31st December, 2021,” Zulum said.
But humanitarian groups say most families are unwilling to return to their ancestral lands especially in the northern parts of Borno, which they deem unsafe.
Buhari has in the past months claimed his government was gaining ground on the insurgents. Last week the country’s top general said ISWAP leader Abu Musab al-Barnawi was dead, without giving details.
Zulum said Borno state authorities would continue to repatriate Nigerian refugees from a camp in Cameroon.
Boko Haram’s leader Abubakar Shekau died in May and Nigeria says hundreds of fighters loyal to the Islamist group have been surrendering to the government since then.
(Reporting by Maiduguri newsroom, Writing by MacDonald Dzirutwe; Editing by David Gregorio)
Exclusive-U.S. hopes to soon relocate Afghan pilots who fled to Tajikistan, official says
The United States hopes to soon relocate around 150 U.S.-trained Afghan Air Force pilots and other personnel detained in Tajikistan for more than two months after they flew there at the end of the Afghan war, a U.S. official said.
The State Department official, who spoke on condition of anonymity, declined to offer a timeline for the transfer but said the United States wanted to move all of those held at the same time. The details of the U.S. plan have not been previously reported.
Reuters exclusively reported first-person accounts from 143 U.S.-trained Afghan personnel being held at a sanatorium in a mountainous, rural area outside of the Tajik capital, Dushanbe, waiting for a U.S. flight out to a third country and eventual U.S. resettlement.
Speaking on smuggled cell phones kept hidden from guards, they say they have had their phones and identity documents confiscated.
There are also 13 Afghan personnel in Dushanbe, enjoying much more relaxed conditions, who told Reuters they are also awaiting a U.S. transfer. They flew into the country separately.
The Afghan personnel in Tajikistan represent the last major group of U.S.-trained pilots still believed to be in limbo after dozens of advanced military aircraft were flown across the Afghan border to Tajikistan and to Uzbekistan in August during the final moments of the war with the Taliban.
In September, a U.S.-brokered deal allowed a larger group of Afghan pilots and other military personnel to be flown out of Uzbekistan to the United Arab Emirates.
Two detained Afghan pilots in Tajikistan said their hopes were lifted in recent days after visits by officials from the U.S. embassy in Dushanbe.
Although they said they had not yet been given a date for their departure, the pilots said U.S. officials obtained the biometric data needed to complete the process of identifying the Afghans. That was the last step before departure for the Afghan pilots in Uzbekistan.
PREGNANT AFGHAN PILOT
U.S. lawmakers and military veterans who have advocated for the pilots have expressed deep frustration over the time it has taken for President Joe Biden’s administration to evacuate Afghan personnel.
Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin was pressed on the matter in Congress last month, expressing concern at a hearing for the pilots and other personnel.
Reuters had previously reported U.S. difficulties gaining Tajik access to all of the Afghans, which include an Afghan Air Force pilot who is eight months pregnant.
In an interview with Reuters, the 29-year-old pilot had voiced her concerns to Reuters about the risks to her and her child at the remote sanatorium. She was subsequently moved to a maternity hospital.
“We are like prisoners here. Not even like refugees, not even like immigrants. We have no legal documents or way to buy something for ourselves,” she said.
The pregnant pilot would be included in the relocation from Tajikistan, the U.S. State Department official said.
Even before the Taliban’s takeover, the U.S.-trained, English-speaking pilots had become prime targets of the Taliban because of the damage they inflicted during the war. The Taliban tracked down the pilots and assassinated them off-base.
Afghanistan’s new rulers have said they will invite former military personnel to join the revamped security forces and that they will come to no harm.
Afghan pilots who spoke with Reuters say they believe they will be killed if they return to Afghanistan.
(Reporting by Phil Stewart; editing by Grant McCool)
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