What can you do with 300 baht? That is the amount of money a worker in a Thai company is now entitled to receive following the government-mandated minimum daily wage hike.
Factory workers, waiters and waitresses, cleaning ladies, garbage collectors, gardeners, labourers and hotel bell boys are among the workers who will presumably benefit from the wage increase.
The Pheu Thai-led government stated in its election campaign that workers deserve the minimum wage of 300 baht (7,800 baht a month), or 40-90% more than they used to receive based on the previous rate.
It's entirely up to you to decide whether the sum is meagre or lavish as compensation for those who help professionals and the elite go smoothly about their daily business.
The original plan was for the rate hike to take place a year ago. The government pushed the date back and has also said it will suspend any further wage increments for two years.
While the wage boost may improve workers' morale and income, some are worried about being laid off or having their places of work closed down.
Around 2,500 workers were reported to have been laid off between Jan 2-6 _ the first five days following the wage increase.
The government says it has hammered out tax reduction measures to alleviate the strain of the wage hike on small- and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs).
Employees, meanwhile, have asked the government to investigate if the new minimum wage will be used by employers as an excuse to close factories down. Businesses may have already been planning to replace workers with machinery, relocate to other Asean countries, or shut down due to a lack of competitiveness.
And some businesses have seized the opportunity to close factories in the wake of the wage hike in order to get the upper hand in settling compensation issues with workers.
Special attention should be given to the more vulnerable workers _ the elderly, women who are pregnant and those with young families who may have to relocate in search of work.
The Pheu Thai Party's wage boost has caused wage costs for entrepreneurs in some provinces to double.
In the July 2011 election, the Democrat Party proposed increasing the minimum wage by 25% in two years.
Both parties have claimed mandatory minimum wage increases would force local entrepreneurs to innovate and find ways to boost the value of their goods, rather than continue to make profits by way of cheap labour.
They also hope that the wage rise will boost domestic consumption.
Low wages underpinned the success of the Thai economy during the 1970-1980s, by raising exports and foreign direct investment.
But studies show that those who toil in export factories earn wages that have not kept pace with the rising cost of living.
Unfair minimum wages are cited as a core economic structural problem that led to the political crisis in recent years.
The country's history of minimum wage rates since 1973 shows that employees typically have weak unity and less negotiating power than their employers. A particular study found that most large labour unions are in state-owned enterprises, and less than one-fifth of local firms have a labour union.
The government's intervention in setting the minimum wage is a justified strategy in narrowing inequality.
But some economists fear that the 300-baht wage is a risky trade-off.
An increase in income could lead to a surge in unemployment and boost the overall cost of staple goods such as food, along with clothing and transportation.
Self-employed workers, totalling about 25 million, have not been provided with adequate social assistance and will not benefit from the wage increase.
Compare that number to the 10 million employees nationwide who will benefit from the mandatory wage hike.
Some employers will cope with the rise in wage costs by cutting other allowances and overtime, resulting in a loss of earning potential.
Some studies suggest that the average income of those earning the minimum wage might increase by slightly more than 20%.
The government cannot claim success in improving people's income and opportunities unless it comes up with a comprehensive policy that also looks at skills development and other causes of inequality.
Parista Yuthamanop is Senior Economics Reporter, Bangkok Post.
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- Writer: Parista Yuthamanop