Province should pay jurors fairly
Why is underpaid labour legal in courtrooms?
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.