Ecuador's Correa hikes minimum wage in run-up to vote

QUITO, Dec 22 (Reuters) - Ecuadorean President Rafael Correa on Saturday announced a 9 percent increase in the minimum wage for private-sector workers for 2013, a move that may help consolidate his February re-election bid that polls broadly show him favored to win.

The leftist Correa, who has won strong popular support for a range of measures including expanding access to health care and improving roads and highways, hiked the minimum wage to $318 per month from $292 per month.

He made the decision unilaterally after being unable to reach an agreement with business leaders, who say the U.S.-trained economist has stifled economic growth through constant confrontation with the private sector.

Correa wants the minimum wage eventually to reach a “dignified salary” of $368 per month that would be on par with the cost of basic goods, including groceries, clothing and school fees.

He has gradually raised the minimum wage during almost six years in office and insists companies should not report profits while workers are not making enough to cover basic expenses.

Polls show Correa leading the Feb. 17 vote by as much as 30 percentage points over the nearest rival, although campaigning does not officially start until January and public opinion is famously volatile in the South American nation.

Ecuador adopted the dollar as its currency following a 1999 financial crisis.