Prov­ince should pay ju­rors fairly

Why is un­der­paid labour le­gal in court­rooms?

The Hamilton Spectator - - COMMENT - MICHAEL J. ARM­STRONG

The On­tario govern­ment is cur­rently pro­mot­ing a plan to raise the min­i­mum wage to $15 per hour. As Premier Kath­leen Wynne says, “we need to make cer­tain that our work­ers are treated fairly.” But if her govern­ment is se­ri­ous about fair­ness, it needs to set the ex­am­ple by pay­ing at least min­i­mum wage to peo­ple serv­ing on its ju­ries.

Imag­ine you are one of the 180,000 peo­ple sum­moned to On­tario court­houses for pos­si­ble jury se­lec­tion each year. You spend sev­eral hours or days there, wait­ing to see if you get picked. If so, you at­tend your as­signed trial for how­ever long it lasts, re­ceiv­ing far less than min­i­mum wage.

The govern­ment pays you noth­ing dur­ing the se­lec­tion process, nor dur­ing the first 10 days of jury duty. You then re­ceive $40 per day for days 11 to 49, and $100 daily there­after. So, if the trial lasts a month (say, 21 week­days, with per­haps six hours of court time each), you re­ceive only $440 for your faith­ful ser­vice.

Com­pare that to some­one earn­ing the $11.40 per hour min­i­mum wage. They re­ceive $68.40 for a six-hour day, ev­ery day. That’s $1,436 per month, triple what ju­rors get.

Un­der the pro­posed in­crease to $15, a min­i­mum wage em­ployee will in­stead earn $1,890 monthly. That’s four times the ju­ror’s in­come.

Other fac­tors make the pay gap be­tween ju­rors and em­ploy­ees even worse.

First, ju­rors re­ceive no ben­e­fits, whereas even tem­po­rary part-timers get va­ca­tion pay. That ex­tra four per cent boosts a worker’s monthly to­tal to $1,493 at cur­rent rates, or $1,966 af­ter the pro­posed in­crease.

Sec­ond, while serv­ing on ju­ries, most peo­ple give up eight-hour days at their reg­u­lar job, not six. They thus miss out on at least $1,991 or $2,661, re­spec­tively.

Third, most em­ploy­ees (thank­fully) earn more than min­i­mum wage. The Canadian av­er­age is about $4,844 per month. That’s 11 times On­tario’s jury pay.

(Maybe ju­rors should ap­ply for so­cial as­sis­tance. Sin­gle adults get up to $706 monthly; fam­i­lies re­ceive more.)

Such un­der­paid labour is il­le­gal for other On­tario em­ploy­ers. Why does the govern­ment con­tinue to ex­empt it­self ? The Lib­er­als have re­peat­edly cracked down on un­paid stu­dent in­tern­ships. Yet their own ju­ror “in­terns” go un­paid for two weeks and un­der­paid for eight more.

Some tra­di­tion­al­ists ar­gue that jury ser­vice is dif­fer­ent be­cause it’s a “civic duty.” Ju­rors do in­deed pro­vide hon­ourable ser­vice; but that’s a rea­son for more pay, not less. Sol­diers and po­lice also serve so­ci­ety. But even an army pri­vate gets $2,985 per month, plus ben­e­fits.

There are sev­eral rea­sons, aside from ba­sic fair­ness, that On­tario should pay ju­rors bet­ter.

First, it would en­cour­age jury par­tic­i­pa­tion rather than ab­sen­teeism. Low-paid work­ers would no longer suf­fer fi­nan­cially as ju­rors. Higher-paid ones would at least feel less pe­nal­ized. Some folks, like part­timers and the un­em­ployed, might even find ser­vice at­trac­tive.

Sec­ond, we have the same eco­nomic ar­gu­ments that sup­port boost­ing the min­i­mum wage. Roughly two mil­lion On­tario work­ers ei­ther earn un­der $15 hourly or are un­em­ployed. Putting more money in their rather thread­bare pock­ets while they’re on ju­ries would be good for their fam­i­lies and the econ­omy.

Fi­nally, pay­ing ju­rors prop­erly could pro­vide some po­lit­i­cal lever­age for the govern­ment’s min­i­mum wage pro­posal. That 32 per cent in­crease faces stiff re­sis­tance from busi­nesses. The Canadian Fed­er­a­tion of In­de­pen­dent Busi­ness is “shocked and ap­palled.” The On­tario Cham­ber of Com­merce wants to at least slow it down.

The Lib­er­als will look like hyp­ocrites if they force ev­ery other On­tario em­ployer to pro­vide higher wages, while con­tin­u­ing to un­der­pay their own ju­rors. The govern­ment should in­stead put its money where its mouth is, and start giv­ing ju­rors the $100 daily rate from day one. Then it can claim to be “shar­ing the pain” and “set­ting the ex­am­ple”.

When dis­cussing the min­i­mum wage, the premier says, “It’s time this rate re­flected the re­al­ity of peo­ple’s lives.” Let’s hear her say that about jury pay, too.

Michael J. Arm­strong is an as­so­ci­ate pro­fes­sor in the Good­man School of Busi­ness at Brock Uni­ver­sity.

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