Heated words in battle over bonus ends in Thai workers setting factory ablaze

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Bangkok (AP) - Police were yesterday searching for ringleaders of angry workers who torched the headquarters and factory of a Japanese company in a dispute over year-end bonuses, newspapers said.

At least 2,000 workers, many of them drunk, set fire to a compound of the Sanyo Universal Electric company late on Tuesday night after bonus negotiations broke down. Workers who gathered in the fenced company compound threw rocks, whisky and beer bottles at the buildings and then started setting wooden debris, electrical appliances and refrigerators alight.

The fires spread to the buildings. More than 400 police were sent to the scene but were unable to stop the workers. Police said about 10 ringleaders were responsible for orchestrating the protest.

According to the Bangkok Post, the fire destroyed the company's eight- storey headquarters and a four-storey warehouse and plant where refrigerators, televisions and air compressors were being manufactured. It was believed to be the worst damage to a major firm in Thailand resulting from a labour dispute.

The Bangkok Post said the company's management had offered a bonus equivalent to three months of wages to its workers, rather than the 5.75-month one it provided last year. Year-end bonuses are customary in Thailand but they are rarely as high as that given by Sanyo.