Alberta’s famous ‘wage premium’ rapidly eroding, experts say

Worker paycheques in the province that once led the country in wage growth have flatlined, but experts say the double whammy of inflation and labour shortages mean Alberta businesses are poised to face a reckoning on wages soon.

For years, Alberta workers have been the highest paid in the country thanks to the province’s lucrative oil and gas sector. During the oilsands boom of a decade ago, Alberta’s so-called wage premium was startling — in 2013, for example, the average weekly wage in the western province was a whopping 23 per cent higher than the national average.

That premium has eroded over the last seven or so years due to a lengthy oil price downturn, though the most recent data from Statistics Canada shows that in 2022, workers in Alberta still enjoy the highest wages in the country ($1,266 on average per week in September compared to the national average of $1,175 per week).

But where Alberta really stands out right now is in the stagnancy of its wages. Despite tight labour markets and the latest oil price boom, Alberta has seen the weakest wage growth of any province over the last two years, according to Statistics Canada.

Nationally, wages are up seven per cent over the last two years, while in Alberta, they’re up less than one per cent. In some industry sectors, Alberta’s wages are actually falling, while the same sectors are experiencing wage growth in other provinces.

“The gap is closing, and it’s closing pretty quickly,” said Mike Holden, chief economist for the Business Council of Alberta.

© 2022 The Canadian Press

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