Times Media old-timers take the bull by its horns

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Andrew Bonamour, the daring and decisive chief of Time Media Group, may have bitten off a lot more than he can chew by getting his business into a row with a bunch of feisty old-timers.

Imagine several hundred bucket-list types drawn from the old days of the Sunday Times when it was a proper rough and tumble Sunday paper, back when it really was required reading, being told by some Johnny-come-to-Joburg that the medical aid subsidy deal they thought was cast in stone was now worth not very much.

Now these same pensioners, led by the doughty Jim Mould, a former managing director of the Sunday Times, are taking Bonamour to task for his temerity.

They say that Times Media Group, endlessly busy with cost-cutting and retrenchments, has also taken the knife to their prized pension packages, going so far as to deny the old toppies any increase last year in their post-retirement medical aid subsidy, just because the company couldn’t afford to pay the current staff any raise.

The deal, cut back in 2001, promised the pensioners annual increases in the medical aid subsidy equivalent to the rise the staff got in their pay packets.

Mould, and another of the pensioners, said they had previously unsuccessfully requested contact details for the pensioners to ascertain the true number of subsidy holders and to form a class action against the company.

Mould said the firm told him in a letter last November that the subsidy would not increase because it had become increasingly unsustainable, having risen from R67 million in 2000 to R274m currently.

Bonamour had offered to buy pensioners out of the subsidies, he claimed. One pensioner, born in 1933, was offered R198 420.36.

“I’m in my seventies. This amount you could blow on one hospital operation,” Mould said, adding that they suspected Bonamour was trying to reduce liabilities on the company balance sheet.

Their suspicions may be backed up by Bonamour’s initial reaction yesterday when asked about the pensioners’ plight: “Don’t you have better things to write about?” Well, no.

Food market

There has been buzzing activity on the South African restaurant franchise front in the past few weeks. The buzz has been around acquisitions, expansions and master licence agreements.

This proves that there is a growing and robust competition in this multibillion-rand market.

While South Africans are being lured into more American taste brands with the opening of Burger King and now the entrance of Domino’s Pizza through Taste Holdings, South Africa’s Famous Brands has been spreading its wings to the Middle East and north Africa.

The announcement late on Wednesday that Taste Holdings was signing a master licence agreement with Domino’s Pizza will definitely heat things up in the pizza category.

But as South Africans get used to the American food craze and super-sized portions, maybe Domino’s Pizza will find a market in waiting.

The American brand already carries a lot of weight, as it apparently delivers more than 1 million pizzas daily worldwide and generated over $8 billion (R83.3bn) of retail sales last year.

While all of this is happening, Famous Brands’s chains such as Steers, Wimpy and Debonairs, have crossed borders to the Arabic-speaking world. The company served up interesting facts about this market, saying that between 20 percent and 30 percent of the population is aged between 15 and 29 years and has grown up eating processed foods and dining in Western-style fast-food restaurants and coffee shops. It adds that women in these regions are now better positioned to build careers and financial independence than previous generations.

Similar sentiments are being expressed about South Africa’s middle classes, which apparently are starting to like pizza, though chicken still rules the roost.

Edited by Peter DeIonno. With contributions from Peter DeIonno and Nompumelelo Magwaza.


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