AB InBev Deal Faces Union Appeal at South Africa Tribunal

  • Labor group concerned about compensation for Zenzele members
  • Competition Commission recommended SABMiller takeover June 1

A South African union plans to appeal against a decision to clear Anheuser-Busch InBev NV’s takeover of fellow brewer SABMiller Plc next week, citing concerns that participants in an employee share-program aren’t being fairly compensated.

The Food and Allied Workers Union believes the program should be wound up and participants paid the same as SABMiller shareholders stand to make from the $106 billion acquisition, General Secretary Katishi Masemola said by phone on Friday.

“We’re going to the Tribunal to argue our case,” Masemola said. “If the Tribunal doesn’t take our argument seriously, we will appeal to the Competition Appeal Court.”

The takeover was cleared by South Africa’s Competition Commission after AB InBev agreed to sell SABMiller’s 9 billion-rand ($577 million) stake in wine and spirits maker Distell Group Ltd., protect jobs and set up a 1 billion-rand fund to support the local beer industry. The union appealed to the commission, which then didn’t address the labor group’s argument when recommending the deal to the Competition Tribunal on Wednesday, Masemola said. An initial hearing is scheduled for June 7, with a full hearing to be scheduled for a later date.

Dividend Payment

The objection could delay the completion of the AB InBev’s combination with SABMiller, which would create the world’s largest brewer. The Leuven, Belgium-based maker of Stella Artois and Budweiser has been seeking regulatory approval around the world for the acquisition, and is poised to gain approval from the U.S. Justice Department, people familiar with the matter said this week.

A key date in the process is Aug. 12, when London-based SABMiller is scheduled to pay its dividend. AB InBev will receive the payout if the deal is completed by then.

“It still looks tight, but because of the agreement with the government there is the potential to clear the deal by that date,” Mike Davies, founder of the political advisory company Kigoda Consulting, said by phone. There’s uncertainty surrounding the date of the Competition Tribunal’s full hearing, but after that the organization has a limit of 10 business days to publish a decision, he said.

The FAWU asked AB InBev for a one-time payout of 1.5 billion rand, or 165,000 rand per participant, in the Zenzele employee share-program, as part of its negotiations, Masemola said. The brewer “has not responded to our proposal positively,” he said.

The union is prepared to take its case as far as South Africa’s Constitutional Court, the highest in the country, Masemola said.

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