05/31/2012 10:55 EDT | Updated 07/31/2012 05:12 EDT

Weekly earnings rise to slightly above inflation, but Ontario lags far behind

OTTAWA - Wage growth picked up slightly across Canada in March, but has largely stalled in Ontario, Statistics Canada's latest report shows.

Average weekly earnings in Canada's largest province were up only 0.1 per cent in March compared with last year, by far the worst performance in the country.

By contrast, resource-rich Saskatchewan, Newfoundland and Alberta saw weekly earnings rise by 5.9 per cent, 4.7 per cent and 3.8 per cent respectively.

Nationally, weekly earnings rose 0.8 per cent in March from February and were up 2.1 per cent over the past year, slightly above the inflation rate and four-tenths of a point better than the annualized gain in February.

The inflation rate was 1.9 per cent in March.

Wage growth has been modest in Canada for most of the last two years despite relatively healthy employment gains, a trend that has slowed consumer spending and contributed to the increase in the household debt-to-income ratio past 150 per cent.

The latest report shows weekly earnings of non-farm payroll employees rose to $888.34 in March, from $881.48 in February.

By industry, wage growth was strongest in the professional, scientific and technical services sectors, which increased by 5.2 per cent over the year to $1,249.39.

Meanwhile, there was a decline in weekly earnings in the manufacturing industry of 0.4 per cent to $981.46.

The agency said there were notably declines in the manufacturing of machinery, furniture and related products.

Statistics Canada also noted that several factors go into the weekly earnings data, including the number of hours worked. In March, employees worked an average of 32.9 hours per week, down from 33 hours a year earlier, but up from 32.8 in February.