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Payroll employment, earnings and hours, March 2020

Released: 2020-05-28

Average weekly earnings — Canada


March 2020

3.7% increase

(12-month change)

Average weekly earnings — N.L.


March 2020

2.3% increase

(12-month change)

Average weekly earnings — P.E.I.


March 2020

5.2% increase

(12-month change)

Average weekly earnings — N.S.


March 2020

3.7% increase

(12-month change)

Average weekly earnings — N.B.


March 2020

4.3% increase

(12-month change)

Average weekly earnings — Que.


March 2020

5.5% increase

(12-month change)

Average weekly earnings — Ont.


March 2020

3.3% increase

(12-month change)

Average weekly earnings — Man.


March 2020

-0.5% decrease

(12-month change)

Average weekly earnings — Sask.


March 2020

3.4% increase

(12-month change)

Average weekly earnings — Alta.


March 2020

1.4% increase

(12-month change)

Average weekly earnings — B.C.


March 2020

4.8% increase

(12-month change)

Average weekly earnings — Y.T.


March 2020

4.2% increase

(12-month change)

Average weekly earnings — N.W.T.


March 2020

6.0% increase

(12-month change)

Average weekly earnings — Nvt.


March 2020

4.3% increase

(12-month change)

By the end of March 2020, a sequence of unprecedented government interventions related to COVID-19—including the closure of non-essential businesses, travel restrictions, and public health measures directing Canadians to limit public interactions—had been put in place. These interventions resulted in a dramatic slowdown in economic activity and a sudden shock to the Canadian labour market, which was documented with the results of the March Labour Force Survey (LFS).

Data are now available from the Survey of Employment, Payrolls and Hours (SEPH), which provides a monthly portrait of payroll employment, earnings, and hours worked at the national level and by province/territory. When used in conjunction with the LFS, the SEPH helps complete the portrait of the Canadian labour market and Canada's economic performance, in large part through providing detailed subsector and industry statistics. Detailed data from SEPH are available on the Statistics Canada website.

Monthly estimates for the SEPH are produced by using a combination of the Business Payrolls Survey (BPS) and a census of payroll deduction accounts provided by the Canada Revenue Agency. The reference period for the SEPH is the last seven days of the month (March 25 to 31). For businesses reporting pay periods longer than one week or outside of the reference period, data are adjusted to reflect the number of days worked during the reference period.

The "payroll employee" concept used in the SEPH excludes the self-employed, as well as owners and partners of unincorporated businesses and professional practices. It also excludes persons who did not receive any pay from the employer for the entire survey reference period. However, employees who were on the payroll at any point during the last pay period of the month, even if they became unemployed during the pay period, are counted in payroll employment.

In March, payroll employment in Canada decreased by 914,500 (-5.4%) compared with February, in line with the 5.3% decrease in total employment observed in the LFS. Payroll employment declined in all provinces, with the largest relative declines observed in Quebec (-7.5%) and British Columbia (-5.7%).

Chart 1  Chart 1: Payroll employment declines by more than 900,000 in March
Payroll employment declines by more than 900,000 in March

Consistent with LFS results, SEPH data further demonstrate that low-paid workers have been disproportionately impacted by the COVID-19 economic shutdown. More than 8 in 10 payroll employees who lost their jobs were paid hourly (unadjusted for seasonality). Hourly paid jobs represented a little less than 60% of all payroll employment in both February and March, and are prevalent in industrial sectors with low earnings.

Chart 2  Chart 2: Larger job variation in March for hourly paid employees than for salaried employees
Larger job variation in March for hourly paid employees than for salaried employees

SEPH data make it possible to more precisely measure the sector-by-sector timing of the impact of the COVID-19 shutdown on the labour market. Results from the LFS indicated that the impact of the COVID-19 economic shutdown was largely confined to the services sector in mid-March, with the majority of job losses among women. By mid-April, the impact had clearly spread to goods-producing industries, with the cumulative impact on men and women being more balanced. SEPH data complete this, showing that the goods-producing sector was affected by the last week in March, with both manufacturing (-104,300 or -6.7%) and construction (-77,600 or -7.4%) posting significant job losses.

Along with employment, average weekly hours worked can serve as a measure of the impact of COVID-19 on the labour market. Average weekly hours for hourly paid employees declined by 1.1 hours to 29.5 hours in March, the lowest level on record. Average weekly hours for all payroll employees declined by 0.7 hours to 32.3 hours per week.

The total weekly payroll (including overtime) for all employees declined 4.7% from February to March. At the same time, due to the larger employment decline among relatively low-paying jobs than in high-paying ones, average weekly earnings rose 0.6% to $1,053.

Infographic 1  Thumbnail for Infographic 1: Largest employment decline in March in lowest-paid sector
Largest employment decline in March in lowest-paid sector

Nearly one in four job losses were in food services and drinking places

In line with results from the LFS, from February to March, 41.0% of the decline in payroll employment was in accommodation and food services and retail trade. These two sectors have the lowest average weekly earnings, potentially placing some lower-paid workers in further or continued financial hardship.

Detailed subsector data available from SEPH reveal that nearly one in four payroll jobs lost from February to March were in the food services and drinking places subsector (-204,800 or -18.0%). This subsector was heavily impacted by the third week of March, by which time measures related to COVID-19―such as mandatory closures or orders to provide curtailed services, like takeout―took effect. These employment losses represented the vast majority (87.6%) of the decline in accommodation and food services (-233,800 or -17.4%), partly due to the subsector's large share of employment in the sector. A notable decline was also observed in accommodation services (-29,000 or -14.3%), the other subsector in accommodation and food services. Average weekly earnings in accommodation and food services were little changed at $429 in March.

In retail trade (-140,900 or -7.0%), payroll employment declined across all 12 subsectors, with the largest proportional decreases in furniture and home furnishings stores (-12,300 or -16.9%), sporting goods, hobby, book and music stores (-11,000 or -13.2%) and motor vehicle and parts dealers (-29,200 or -13.0%). Due in part to the relatively higher average weekly earnings in motor vehicle and parts dealers, where the largest number of payroll jobs were lost in retail trade, average weekly earnings in the sector fell 2.3% to $610 in March.

The large employment losses in the accommodation and food services and retail trade sectors largely explain why overall employment losses in March were concentrated among hourly paid employees. Each sector has a higher-than-average proportion of hourly paid employees (more than 8 in 10 in each sector in February and March, compared with a little less than 6 in 10 across all sectors).

Employment losses in both accommodation and food services and retail trade follow a period of long-term gains since the last recession, though the pace of growth had flattened somewhat in recent months.

Less impact on some high-paying sectors

Payroll employment and total earnings 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. Average weekly earnings in finance and insurance increased 4.7% in March.

Declining oil prices and a decreasing international demand for oil due to reduced economic activity did not negatively impact payroll employment and earnings in oil and gas extraction in March. Employment in the subsector increased month over month (+2.8%) and earnings did not vary significantly. Payroll employment in other natural resources subsectors such as mining and forestry was also little changed in March.

Some high-paying sectors where physical distancing or teleworking are less practical were affected by the COVID-19 economic shutdown. Construction employment decreased 7.4% in March, with the largest decline occurring in Quebec (-15.0%). In Canada overall, heavy and civil engineering construction was relatively less affected (-4.0%) as some ongoing infrastructure projects were allowed to continue.

Payroll employment in motor vehicle and vehicle parts manufacturing declined by 20,900 in Canada, as automotive assembly plants across North America shut down production in mid-March. This decline contributed to an overall decrease of 104,300 (-6.7%) in the number of payroll employees in manufacturing.

Mixed portrait in the health care and social assistance sector

Many health care and social assistance workers have been on the frontline of the current COVID-19 pandemic. The impact of COVID-19, however, has differed by subsector and industry, with some reducing their activities to contain the outbreak and others providing critical care to vulnerable populations. The SEPH provides detailed labour-related information about the subsectors and industries in health care and social assistance, building on earlier, high-level information reported in the LFS release for March.

The number of payroll employees in hospitals was little changed in March. Overtime earnings, however, rose by about one-quarter compared with February (not seasonally adjusted), as COVID-19 was spreading and the workload at hospitals had increased.

Community care facilities for the elderly, which include long-term care facilities, have been hit very hard by the crisis, with many residents and staff exposed to the coronavirus. Employment in community care facilities for the elderly was little changed in March, but total overtime pay increased by 19.3% (not seasonally adjusted), and average weekly earnings increased by 2.8%. Despite this increase in earnings, and other increases that have taken place since the middle of 2019, payroll jobs in community care facilities for the elderly remained among the lowest-paid sectors, with the average earnings amounting to two-thirds of the overall Canadian average.

Payroll employment in ambulatory health care services declined by 36,000 in March, with notable declines for offices of dentists and offices of physicians as non-urgent appointments were cancelled or rescheduled. This is the largest monthly decline in the subsector since comparable data became available in 2001. Weekly hours worked of hourly paid employees declined, notably for offices of dentists (unadjusted for seasonality).

In child-care services, payroll employment declined by 16,000 (-10.4%) as many day-cares closed across the country in March, with the exception of those providing services for children of essential service workers.

Payroll employment in health care and social assistance as a whole declined by 62,800 (-3.0%) month over month. Employment in the sector had been following a long-term upward trend until January. A large proportion of workers in the sector are self-employed, according to the LFS, notably in child-care services and in ambulatory health care services, and so are not included in payroll employment.

Looking ahead

Beginning in early May, some jurisdictions began to ease some of the public health and economic restrictions related to COVID-19. May LFS data—reflecting labour market conditions for the week of May 10 to 16—will be released on June 5 and will provide a first indication of whether this initial easing has had an impact on labour market conditions. Of particular importance will be variations in labour market conditions across regions, industries and population groups.

SEPH data will continue to complement the LFS by shedding additional light on the labour market impacts of COVID-19, including the impact on employment, earnings and hours within subsectors. SEPH results for April 2020 will be released on June 25.

Sustainable development goals

On January 1, 2016, the world officially began implementing the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development—the United Nations' transformative plan of action that addresses urgent global challenges over the next 15 years. The plan is based on 17 specific sustainable development goals.

The Survey of Employment, Payrolls and Hours is an example of how Statistics Canada supports the reporting on the global sustainable development goals. This release will be used to measure the following goals:

  Note to readers

The key objective of the Survey of Employment, Payrolls and Hours (SEPH) is to provide a monthly portrait of the level of earnings, employment and hours worked, by detailed industry, at the national, provincial and territorial levels.

SEPH estimates are produced by integrating information from three sources: a census of approximately one million payroll deduction records provided by the Canada Revenue Agency; the Business Payrolls Survey, which collects data from a sample of 15,000 establishments; and administrative records of federal, provincial and territorial public administration employment provided by these levels of government.

Estimates of average weekly earnings and hours worked are based on a sample and are therefore subject to sampling variability. This analysis focuses on differences between estimates that are statistically significant at the 68% confidence level. Payroll employment estimates are based on a census of administrative records and are not subject to sampling variability.

With each release of SEPH data, data for the preceding month are revised. Users are encouraged to use the most up-to-date data available for each month.

Statistics Canada also produces employment estimates from its Labour Force Survey (LFS). The LFS is a monthly household survey, the main objective of which is to divide the working-age population into three mutually exclusive groups: the employed (including the self-employed), the unemployed and those not in the labour force. This survey is the official source for the unemployment rate, and it collects data on the sociodemographic characteristics of all those in the labour market.

As a result of conceptual and methodological differences, estimates of changes from the SEPH and LFS differ from time to time. However, the trends in the data are quite similar. For a more in-depth discussion of the conceptual differences between employment measures from the LFS and SEPH, refer to Section 8 of the Guide to the Survey of Employment, Payrolls and Hours (Catalogue number72-203-G).

Unless otherwise stated, this release presents seasonally adjusted data, which facilitate comparisons by removing the effects of seasonal variations. For more information on seasonal adjustment, see Seasonally adjusted data – Frequently asked questions.

Non-farm payroll employment data are for all hourly and salaried employees, as well as for the "other employees" category, which includes piece-rate and commission-only employees.

Unless otherwise specified, average weekly hours data are for hourly and salaried employees only and exclude businesses that could not be classified to a North American Industry Classification System (NAICS) code.

All earnings data include overtime and exclude businesses that could not be classified to a NAICS code. Earnings data are based on gross taxable payroll before source deductions. Average weekly earnings are derived by dividing total weekly earnings by the number of employees.

Real-time data tables

Real-time tables 14-10-0357-01, 14-10-0358-01, 14-10-0331-01 and 14-10-0332-01 will be updated on June 8.

Next release

Data on payroll employment, earnings and hours for April will be released on June 25.


More information about the concepts and use of the Survey of Employment, Payrolls and Hours is available in the Guide to the Survey of Employment, Payrolls and Hours (Catalogue number72-203-G).

The product "Earnings and payroll employment in brief: Interactive app" (Catalogue number14200001) is now available. This interactive data visualization application provides a comprehensive picture of the Canadian labour market using the most recent data from the Survey of Employment, Payrolls and Hours. The estimates are seasonally adjusted and available by province and largest industrial sector. Historical estimates going back 10 years are also included. The interactive application allows users to quickly and easily explore and personalize the information presented. Combine multiple provinces and industrial sectors to create your own labour market domains of interest.

Contact information

For more information, contact us (toll-free 1-800-263-1136; 514-283-8300;

To enquire about the concepts, methods or data quality of this release, contact Myriam Hazel (343-550-6742;, Centre for Labour Market Information.

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