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This article was published 31/7/2017 (1211 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.
Proposed changes to the minimum wage generated much debate earlier this spring. Labour and business groups took opposing stands, making it difficult for the Manitoba government to make either side happy, let alone both. But one change for which the province should easily find consensus would be to start paying its juries at least minimum wage.
Imagine you are one of the thousands of people summoned for possible jury selection each year. You spend several hours at the courthouse, waiting to see if you get picked. If so, you attend your assigned trial for however long it lasts, in return for much less than minimum wage.
The government pays you nothing during the selection process, nor the first 10 days of the trial. Thereafter you get just $30 per day of duty. So, if the trial lasts a month (say, 21 weekdays, of perhaps six hours each), you receive only $330 for your obligatory service.
Compare that to someone earning the $11 hourly minimum wage. They receive $66 for a six-hour day. That’s about $1,386 per month, four times what jurors get.
Other factors make the pay gap between jurors and employees even worse.
First, even temporary employees receive vacation pay. That extra four per cent boosts the minimum monthly total to $1,441.
Second, while serving on juries, most people give up eight-hour days at their regular jobs, not six. They thus miss out on at least $1,922 (more than $91 per day), almost six times the juror’s pay.
Third, most employees (thankfully) earn more than minimum wage. The Canadian average is about $4,844 per month. That’s 14 times jury pay.
Maybe jurors should apply for income assistance. Even that pays better.
Underpaying people this way would be illegal for other Manitoba employers. The government should stop exempting itself.
Some traditionalists argue that jury service is different because it’s a "civic duty." Jury service is indeed honourable; but that’s a reason for more pay, not less. Soldiers and police also serve society. But even a raw army private gets $2,985 per month, plus benefits.
Manitoba’s jury pay also looks miserly when compared with other provinces’ rates. For example, Alberta pays $50 daily, starting on day one. Quebec is particularly generous, paying $103 per day, with increases for long trials or holiday sessions.
There are several reasons, aside from basic fairness, that jurors should receive better pay.
First, it would encourage more jury participation and less absenteeism. Low-paid workers would no longer suffer economically as jurors. Higher-paid ones would feel less penalized. Some folks, such as part-timers and the unemployed, could find service financially attractive.
This, in turn, could increase jury diversity. Currently, the people suffering the least financial loss from jury duty are pensioners and workers who receive paid court leave from their employers. That tends to mean middle-class employees of larger, unionized organizations.
To the extent that those groups are more likely to serve, juries are less representative of Manitoba society. That makes it harder for the accused to be judged by their "peers."
Finally, paying jurors properly could provide the government with a few political brownie points around minimum wages. Labour groups wanted big increases such as Alberta and Ontario are offering. But the government is simply indexing the wage to inflation instead.
If the Progressive Conservatives continue to underpay their own jurors, they could look like hypocrites to both labour and management. The government should instead increase jurors’ pay to at least $90 daily, like any other employer in the province. Then it can at least claim to be "doing its part."
Trade Minister Cliff Cullen has said he wants to "ensure working Manitobans take home more of their hard-earned money." By increasing jury pay to at least minimum wage, the government could help a few more Manitobans do exactly that.
» Michael J. Armstrong is an associate professor in the Goodman School of Business at Brock University. His column also recently appeared in the Winnipeg Free Press.