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Taseko Mines laid off 7 per cent of its 700-person work force at Gibralter Mine in B.C. earlier this year

From copper miners to the oil patch, plunging commodity prices are taking a toll on employment in Western Canada – a trend employers see persisting for at least another three months.

While most Canadian companies expect relatively steady hiring in the next quarter, miners in Western Canada are more likely to cut staff, the latest Manpower Inc. employment survey shows.

Across all sectors, 18 per cent of employers say they are looking to hire in the upcoming quarter, while only 5 per cent anticipate downsizing. Taking into account the seasonal adjustment, the net Canadian employment outlook is at 10 per cent, unchanged from last quarter and one percentage point higher than a year ago.

The net employment outlook is the percentage of employers expecting to bring on more staff, minus the percentage of employers expecting to cut back.

"I can't say that it's strong from a year-over-year [comparison], when you've got a one-point percentage increase," Michelle Dunnill, branch manager of Manpower's Toronto office, said,"but given our challenges that are transpiring right now, [we're] cautiously optimistic."

But collapsing commodity prices – with oil down more than 50 per cent from a year ago – are dragging down expectations in the mining and energy sectors.

One in five Canadian oil and gas companies have said they might have to cut staff as prices slide, according to Ms. Dunnill.

The net employment outlook for the mining sector, which includes some oil sands firms, is 1 per cent, a four-percentage-point quarterly decline and a drop of nine percentage points year over year.

And for miners in Western Canada, the prospects are far bleaker. Hiring intentions were negative for the first time since analysis began in 2004, with an outlook of -5 per cent.

It's not only oil producers feeling the squeeze. Taseko Mines Ltd., a copper producer, was forced to lay off 7 per cent of its 700-person work force at Gibraltar Mine in B.C. earlier this year.

"That's a large number of workers in a small town in the Central Interior of B.C.," said Brian Battison, Taseko's vice-president of corporate affairs.

"We would like to see that price turn around and become a little stronger," he said. "But in the mean time, when you're not making money, you have a hard time expanding the work force."

Ryan Montpellier, executive director at the Mining Industry Human Resources Council, said the mining sector is hurting, noting the coal sector in northeastern B.C., the iron ore sector in Quebec and the oil sands as areas that have been hit particularly hard.

"There's no doubt about it. The industry is struggling at the moment," he said. "I think there's been something in the neighbourhood of 2,000 to 3,000 layoffs that have been announced in the course of the last six months or so."

Despite the current downturn, Mr. Montpellier anticipates the need to hire more than 120,000 workers over the next 10 years.While the bulk of those hires will replace retiring miners, the organization expects almost 20,000 new jobs to be created. He expects the downsizing trend to reverse itself when prices recover.

On the positive side of Canadian hiring trends, employers in the finance, insurance and real estate sector are particularly eager to bring on more staff. Nineteen per cent will be looking to hire before the end of June.

The transportation and public utilities sector is also poised for strong growth, with a 14-per-cent net employment outlook.