Move Forward Party (MFP) leader Pita Limjaroenrat vowed to push for a proposed hike in the minimum wage to 450 baht per day by raising the issue with the tripartite national wage committee if his party forms the new government.
Speaking on a YouTube channel hosted by news anchor Sorayuth Suthassanachinda, Mr Pita, the MFP prime ministerial candidate, said he had discussed the proposed wage hike with the private sector.
The MFP's election pledge to immediately increase the daily minimum wage to 450 baht and adjust it annually to keep up with inflation is generating widespread debate. While the intention to support unskilled workers may be noble, it is important to acknowledge the hike's potential impacts on businesses and the overall economy, observers say.
"The government cannot force the private sector to increase the wage. Under the law, the matter must be discussed by the tripartite committee.
"If an employee works 20 days a month, the wage is still less than 10,000 baht, while the cost of living is very high nowadays," Mr Pita said.
The tripartite national wage committee, comprising the government, employers and labour unions, needs to finalise the details of any proposed wage hike and submit them to the cabinet before making an announcement.
This approach will ensure transparency and accountability in the decision-making process, considering the wide-ranging impact on stakeholders.
Mr Pita said he will still need to meet employers for further talks on the proposed wage hike. But if the MFP becomes the government, measures would also be rolled out to help ease the impact of the hike on employers -- such as reducing taxes for small- and medium-sized enterprises and a waiver of employers' contributions to the Social Security Fund for six months.
"We will take care of SMEs affected by the wage hike with relief packages devised to help them," Mr Pita said.
Regarding the proposal to increase the daily wage to 450 baht within 100 days of taking power, Mr Pita said the government would send representatives to explain the matter to the tripartite committee and present measures to help affected employers.
Mr Pita went on to say that while he will push for the wage increase, he will pursue other policies such as reducing electricity rates, oil prices, boosting liquidity for businesses, increasing state revenue and promoting exports.
He also tried to allay concerns that the proposed wage hike would prompt big business operators to move their production bases in Thailand to other countries.
"I talked to major businesses, and they said this would be an opportunity to shift from labour to new technologies. Whether fewer workers will be employed... I think there will still be employment within a larger number of high-quality jobs," he said.
"We can't afford to let the country's competitiveness be limited by low wages. We will find ways to help by reducing other costs for operators.
"We will explain that it is necessary to increase wages and that workers deserve it. If big operators want the [incoming] government to do anything to help them, we are ready to do so," Mr Pita said.
Writing on Facebook on Friday, Santitarn Sathirathai, group chief economist of Sea Group, a tech conglomerate headquartered in Singapore, said that he agreed with any efforts to address economic inequality in Thailand.
While the minimum wage should be increased, every policy always has its advantages and disadvantages, he said.
"In this case, a proposed wage hike without addressing lack of productivity will have a negative impact as businesses will have to shoulder increasing costs and may have to move their production bases elsewhere or replace workers with machinery or technologies," he said.