Saskatchewan was the only province in Canada to record an increase in employment for the second month in a row, according to Statistics Canada's labour force report for May. In total, the province added 4,100 jobs last month.
According to the May report, released Friday, the number of people working in Saskatchewan rose by 0.7 per cent from April. Meanwhile, across the country employment was down by 68,000 jobs, or 0.4. per cent from April.
Saskatchewan's unemployment rate fell from 6.6 per cent in April to 6.3 per cent in May — the lowest rate in Canada.
Trade and Export Development Minister Jeremy Harrison says the province's approach to COVID-19 restrictions throughout the pandemic and its "strong economy" are to thank for the job growth and unemployment rate.
"There are going to be month-to-month fluctuations. There always are," Harrison said Friday.
"But I think the the overall macro picture of a strong base to go from — lowest unemployment rate in the in the country — coupled with what is going to be very strong private sector investment into the province, is going to mean that we have an improving jobs picture going forward."
According to Statistics Canada, there were employment increases in the transportation, warehousing, retail trade, information, and culture and recreation sectors.
Growth in private sector
Since April, three major agriculture processing plants have announced they're coming to Regina. A fourth is coming into Northgate, about 275 kilometres south of the city, near the U.S. border.
Three companies — Ceres Global Ag Corp., Viterra and Cargill — plan canola crushing plants. Red Leaf Pulp Limited has announced plans for a facility to processes wheat straw.
Hundreds of new permanent full-time jobs are expected to be created, along with construction jobs.
"Not to mention the fact that you have the construction season here in the province, which is gearing up, whether it be highway or other construction projects," Harrison said.
Recent jobs data suggests that Saskatchewan can continue to expect the lowest unemployment jurisdictions in the country for the foreseeable future, he said.
Statistics Canada reported major year-over-year gains for trade, which is up to 18,400 jobs, according to a Friday news release from the province. The educational services sector was up 7,300 jobs, and the private sector was up 53,200 jobs.
Over the same period, female employment increased by 32,300 jobs, or 14 per cent. Off-reserve Indigenous employment also saw a gain of 8,800 jobs, or 17.9 per cent, the province's release said.
Saskatchewan's job recovery rate ranked fourth among provinces, and sits above the national recovery rate of 97 per cent, according to Statistics Canada.
New minimum wage
The provincial government also announced Friday that Saskatchewan's minimum wage will go up very slightly this fall. As of Oct. 1 it will increase by 36 cents an hour — up to $11.81.
The province currently has the lowest minimum wage in the country, at $11.45. The increase would put it just ahead of New Brunswick.
Opposition NDP Leader Ryan Meili slammed the Saskatchewan Party government's announcement on Friday, calling it "abysmal and an insult to front-line workers who have sacrificed so much over the course of the COVID-19 pandemic."
Harrison addressed questions Friday about the challenges young workers between the ages of 15 and 30 have faced throughout the pandemic.
"I would suspect that in the real world you are going to see more in that 15- to 30-year-[old] age category back at work," said Harrison.
"Literally dozens of employees [are] going back to work, with particularly restaurants. And that will continue to be the case in the hospitality sector and restaurant sector as we move forward with restrictions being lifted."
Asked about the fact some of the young workers are currently receiving the lowest minimum wage in the country, Harrison said other provinces have faced stricter pandemic measures and fewer employment options over the pandemic.
"There's a stark contrast between where Toronto was at today — with complete lockdown, restaurants open only for takeout service, and no clear, firm date on when that is going to be changing — versus the fact that we have in this province never shut down indoor dining outside of Regina, and a limited area surrounding Regina, since the very first initial round of measures," Harrison said.
"The fact that those young people have the opportunity to go to work is preferable to the circumstance they would find themselves in elsewhere."
Meanwhile, the NDP, who have called for a $15 minimum wage, have a different viewpoint.
"Workers in this province have done everything that the government and public health officials have asked of them. And in return Premier Scott Moe has rewarded them with the second-lowest minimum wage in Canada [as of October]," said Meili.
"Saskatchewan workers deserve so much better, and the economic recovery we all want to see won't mean much if it doesn't include working families being able to get back on their feet."
Meili says the minimum wage is hurting local businesses.
"For local businesses to succeed in their recovery, they need Saskatchewan families who can afford to spend locally. We need a strong minimum wage and a real jobs plan to build a better province and a better economy for everyone."