PHNOM PENH - Cambodian trade unionists and hundreds of garment workers on Wednesday launched a campaign for a $77 (S$97) monthly pay hike, turning up the pressure on factories ahead of looming wages talks.
About 500 workers joined a brief rally at a garment factory in an industrial park in Phnom Penh to urge international buyers, including GAP, Levi's, H&M, Puma and ZARA to lift their basic wage to $177 a month.
Scores of soldiers armed with rifles were also deployed near the rally and at nearby factories, witnesses told AFP.
The workers are asking for a minimum monthly wage of $177 - a $77 increase to the current base wage.
"With the current wages, the garment workers cannot have a decent living," Ath Thorn, president of the Coalition of Cambodian Apparel Workers Democratic Union, told AFP.
"We hope to get an appropriate salary for the workers to live decently," he said, adding that workers and unionists would organise similar rallies at more than 200 factories across the country.
Most of the workers who joined the rally wore orange-coloured T-Shirt bearing "$177" or carried banners proclaiming "we need $177".
The campaign comes ahead of a planned negotiations between the government, unions and factories later this month to set next's year minimum wage for the industry.
Disputes over wages, safety and conditions in Cambodia's lucrative garment industry are frequent and sometimes turn violent.
A crackdown on striking garment workers in early January left at least four people dead.
The multi-billion dollar industry employs about 650,000 people and is a key source of foreign income for the impoverished country.
Cambodia earns around $5.5 billion in garments export last year.
Western brands in May said they were prepared to factor in the price of higher salaries in Cambodia to avoid production line delays due to unrest.
Following the mass strike subsequent bloody crackdown in January, the minimum wage was increased to $100 per month.
At least six union leaders face charges in connection with that mass strike, according to rights activists.
Two of them have been place under court supervision banning them from joining meetings with unionists and public gatherings.