Minimum-wage dispute sullies FTI's reputation

One of the year's more controversial issues was the decision to raise the daily minimum wage to 300 baht nationwide from the beginning of 2013.

The hike has led to internal disagreements at the Federation of Thai Industries (FTI), the country's largest private-sector organisation.

Federation chairman Payungsak Chartsutthipol has been criticised by key executives of the FTI for his failure to tackle the wage issue, especially its impact on small and medium-sized enterprises.

Led by vice-chairman Tanit Sorat and secretary-general Sommat Khunset, the rival camp has a launched bid to oust Mr Payungsak as the chairman.

Mr Tanit's camp has the backing of industrial operators upcountry.

Mr Payungsak, a former executive of the Siam Cement Group, is in his second term of chairmanship, which runs until March 2014.

First taking the helm at the FTI in 2008, he was backed by his predecessor Santi Vilassakdanont, an executive of consumer product giant the Saha Group.

Mr Tanit's side called for a meeting of the FTI's committee in late November to expel Mr Payungsak.

Most of the committee's 348 members attended the meeting and voted for Mr Santi to return as the FTI chief.

Mr Payungsak, however, insists on remaining at the helm of the organisation, pointing out that a meeting of more than 7,000 members nationwide is required to remove him.

As the rift intensified, cabinet figures including Deputy Prime Minister and Finance Minister Kittiratt Na-Ranong and Industry Minister Prasert Boonchaisuk have stepped in to try and settle the issue.

Mr Santi has decided to step down, but the internal dispute at the FTI has yet to be resolved.

Mr Payungsak, meanwhile, has repeatedly insisted he will never step down even though he admitted the rift has sullied the FTI's reputation.

Recently, Mr Payungsak threatened to sue the rival camp if it uses the FTI name and logo without permission.

Observers say both sides will likely hold further meetings until they can decide the way forward.