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Bay Street in Toronto, Ontario is seen here on Thursday Feb. 9, 2012.

Tim Fraser/The Globe and Mail

The number of hours worked in Canada is little changed, and employment gains are muted, but earnings growth is firming.

Average earnings rose 3.1 per cent in February from a year earlier, with the biggest gains in construction and public administration, and in Alberta, Statistics Canada's payrolls survey showed Thursday. That's the fastest rate of annual increase in five months.

Elsewhere, the report mirrors a slow - but still growing - economy. Hours worked are fairly flat from a year earlier (at 32.9 hours a week from 32.8 hours a year earlier) and payroll employment rose 14,500 in the month.

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Not all sectors are seeing growth - earnings in accommodation and food services, Canada's fifth-largest employer by sector, have fallen 0.4 per cent from last year.

It has the lowest of any sector, with workers earnings an average of $360.44 a week. The highest-paying sector as of February is natural resources, where workers in mining and energy earn on average $1,879.77 per week.

The broad increase stems from "wage growth, changes in composition of employment by industry, occupation and level of job experience, as well as average hours worked per week," the agency said.

The fastest pace of earnings growth is in construction, up 4.6 per cent from last year, led by growth in utility system construction and non-residential building construction.

Public administration earnings rose 4.3 per cent due to growth in at the local, municipal and regional levels. Alberta is seeing the strongest earnings growth and New Brunswick the weakest.

Small business confidence, meantime, is fading. The Canadian Federation of Independent Business's measure of optimism fell in April, after a large drop in March

"After a promising start to the year, more business owners appear disappointed with their firms' performance so far this spring," it said.

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Concerns about a shortage of skilled labour have ebbed and reports on new orders are down from prior months.

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