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While employment is more than three per cent higher than it was at the start of the coronavirus pandemic, working hours are up by only 1.75 per cent due to increased levels of absenteeism, according to a new report by the Canadian Imperial Bank of Commerce.

Relative to pre-pandemic years, wage costs increased by an estimated 0.5 per cent to 0.9 per cent due to paid leave, found the report, which noted more than 0.4 more hours per employee were lost in the fourth quarter of 2022, up from 0.2 extra hours of illness or family-related absenteeism in 2021.

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The report also noted absenteeism due to sickness is increasing at the same time that workers are using more vacation days than during the first two years of the pandemic. Despite an unemployment rate of five per cent, this loss in hours is equivalent to a roughly six per cent unemployment rate pre-pandemic.

This trend is expected to continue through the winter and sectors where work can’t be undertaken at home — such as education, manufacturing and construction — will be disproportionately impacted, said the report.

“On aggregate, the additional hours that are being lost compared to pre-pandemic norms is equivalent to requiring around 175,000 additional staff. If vacation time wasn’t still running below pre-pandemic norms, lost hours due to sickness and family needs alone would be equivalent to requiring around 230,000 additional employees.”

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