DEBATE over a rise in the minimum wage is heating up, with a key battleground opening up on whether payment of differential rates of increase across the country should continue.
Advocates for a more generous policy on minimum pay want any rise to be applied at the same rate nationwide, but those in the opposing camp point to the variations in the cost of living throughout the country.
Labour economist Lae Dilokvidhyarat said he supported the stand of trade unions for a rise in the daily minimum wage at the same rate nationwide.
“The pattern of spending by workers is the same everywhere as they depend on their wage incomes and they go to spend money once a week at Tesco Lotus, 7 -Eleven and other stores which apply same price to goods every where,” said Lae.
His comments come in response to those of employers who oppose a uniform rate of increase.
Lae said that the welfare of workers is equal to the wellbeing of employers, so the government cannot just let employers take a disproportionate share of business profits.
He said he rejected the idea that the minimum wage must take into account labour skills. “The minimum wage must be decided by cost of living parameters, not skills,” said Lae. Nor should it depend on ability of some employers to pay lower or higher wages, he said.
Another labour economist, Yongyuth Chalamwong, counters that the minimum wage rise should be based on the consumer price index (CPI), which differs from province to province.
Any sharp increase in the minimum wage should not be approved this year. Instead, any rise that takes the daily minimum wage to a high level, such as Bt360, should be viewed in the context of a long-term goal of five to 10 years, Yongyuth said.
“Small businesses in provincial areas do not have the means to pay high wages and the country’s overall economic growth is not solid,” he said.
However, he believes that the minimum daily wage should rise in every province this year by at least Bt2 on top of the average Bt305 per day paid now.
The Minister of Labour, Police General Adul Saengsingkaew, said that he reported to a Cabinet meeting about a meeting of representatives of business, labour and government today that will decide on the wage rise.
Prime Minister General Prayuth Chan-o-cha wanted the ministry to take care of the interests of both labour and the employers, he quoting him as saying. After the minimum wage was raised to Bt300 per day nationwide, there had been no rises between 2014 and 2016. Last year, increases of between Bt5 and Bt10 were approved for different parts of the country.
Business leaders are steadfastly opposed to raising the minimum daily wage at the same rate across the country.
Kalin Sarasin, chairman of the government’s Joint Standing Committee on Commerce, Industry and Banking, told reporters on Tuesday that businesspeople were “confused” by a report suggesting the minimum wage increase nationwide should be between Bt2 and Bt15.
He said his committee had recommended alternative wage adjustments to the Labour Ministry.
“The committee agreed that wages should be revised up annually, but not at the same rate across the country, and nor should the new rates be too high,” Kalin said.
He pointed out that economic conditions vary from province to province. Authority over wage rises should be given to provincial committees made up of businesspeople, labour representatives and state officials, he said.
Kalin said three million small and medium-sized enterprises may be unable to absorb the impact of the proposed wage rise.
Also, the economy has not yet fully recovered and is subject to such volatile factors as the baht strengthening and crude oil prices rising globally.
He said the government should put more effort into developing workers’ skills and their wages would be adjusted accordingly.
Federation of Thai Industries vice chairman Suchart Chantaranakaracha said workers saw their wages rise by Bt5 in 49 provinces last year, by Bt8 in 13 provinces, by Bt10 in seven provinces and not at all in eight provinces. He put total employment last year at 37.72 million – 12.05 million in the farming sector, 14.79 million in manufacturing and 10.88 million in trades and services.
Trade unions demand that wage rises should be applied at the same rate across the country and that a proposed daily wage of Bt360 would keep pace with the rising cost of living and address high household debt.
The Labour Ministry has indicated that the minimum daily wage would not rise at the same rate nationwide.