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KEVIN VAN PAASSEN/The Globe and Mail

Canadian employers have turned more cautious about hiring, particularly those in manufacturing-heavy Central Canada.

Hiring intentions fell to a four-year low of 9 per cent for the second quarter, down two percentage points from the prior quarter and three points from the same time last year, Manpower's quarterly employment survey to be released Tuesday shows. Employers in Quebec are the most cautious for the April-to-June period while the West leads in hiring plans.

"Things are just sputtering along," said Byrne Luft, vice-president of operations for Manpower Canada, adding that employers may be waiting for clearer evidence of a U.S. economic recovery before boosting payrolls.

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Canada's labour market has stalled, with the economy shedding 7,000 jobs last month and employment levels essentially flat over the past half year, Statistics Canada data showed last week. Regional differences abound, with Quebec posting the biggest monthly decline in February, shedding 26,000 workers, while Alberta again led the job gains.

Manpower's survey shows four per cent of employers see cutbacks in the second quarter, 16 per cent plan to boost staffing levels and 78 per cent expect to maintain current staffing levels.

Among cities, the hiring outlook is brightest in Edmonton, while it is softest in Montérégie, Que., the survey of more than 1,900 employers in Canada showed.

Employers in central Canada are particularly reticent about adding to head count. Job growth looks set to be slower in Ontario and Quebec, "with limited advances in full-time work expected for the coming quarter," the release said.

Job prospects are strongest in the construction sector along with the transportation and public utilities sectors, while they're weakest among manufacturers of non-durable goods, the poll showed.

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