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An employee at an A&W in North Vancouver in 2008 gives change back to a costumer.

John Lehmann/The Globe and Mail

Most workers can expect pay hikes next year that will be just above the anticipated rate of inflation.

The Conference Board of Canada's annual compensation outlook shows employers see "moderate" base salary increases of 2.9 per cent for non-unionized staff next year and 2 per cent for unionized staff.

That's a small improvement from this year's hike of 2.8 per cent for non-unionized workers, and the same pace as last year for unionized workers.

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"In a slow-growth Canadian economy, organizations are planning moderate increases for 2015," said the report, released Thursday which is based on responses from 382 public and private-sector employers.

Inflation is set to rise at a 1.9-per-cent pace, the Conference Board predicts.

There is considerable variation between sectors. The oil and gas industry is expected to see the biggest hikes, at 3.9 per cent (though this may have since changed as the survey was conducted in June, before oil prices started sliding). The lowest average increase is expected in the health sector, at 2.2 per cent.

Like last year, wage gains will likely be firmer in the private sector. Private firms see increases of 2.9 per cent for non-unionized staff and 2.2 per cent for unionized staff. On the public-sector side, wages are likely to increase 2.7 per cent for non-unionized staff and 1.5 per cent for unionized workers.

This comes after wage settlements for unionized workers slumped to 1.4 per cent last year, the lowest since 1997, data from the federal labour department show.

Among provinces, Saskatchewan and Alberta are expected to lead wage gains among non-unionized workers, with increases of 3.6 per cent and 3.5 per cent, respectively, the board says. Atlantic provinces and Ontario will see the weakest growth at 2.3 per cent and 2.5 per cent. The highest rates of pay are in Fort McMurray and Calgary.

Statistics Canada's survey of employment, payrolls and hours, also out Thursday, shows average weekly earnings rose 3.5 per cent from a year earlier, with the fastest gains among managers and in mining and energy, and the weakest in forestry along with administrative and support services. Most recent labour force survey data show wages are rising at the same pace as inflation.

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Job growth this year has been "sluggish," the Conference Board paper noted. "Unless employment picks up significantly over the next few months, 2014 (with the exception of the downturn in 2009) could be on track for one of the weakest annual gains since 2001."

The outlook for next year is brighter, it added, due to improving business profits and trade prospects. It sees economic growth gathering steam, to 2.6 per cent next year from 2.2 per cent this year.

"While increases in real wages benefit household income and consumer spending, Canada will need to improve on its lagging productivity in order to remain competitive as labour markets tighten in the future."

The most in-demand jobs are information technology specialists, followed by engineers and skilled trades.

Sixteen per cent of respondents expect their work force to grow while 7 per cent think it will fall. And just 2 per cent of organizations are planning to freeze base salaries next year.

Few employers expect strikes or lockouts next year. Nine in ten unionized organizations said they don't expect any work stoppages. Six in ten rate their union-management climate as "cooperative."

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Wages will continue to take centre stage at the bargaining table. The top four issues for management are expected to be wages, productivity, business competitiveness and flexible work practices. The top union issues are likely to be wages, employment security, health benefits and pensions.

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