A barman pours a beer produced by brewing company SABMiller at a bar in Cape Town, South Africa. Picture: Mike Hutchings

Johannesburg - The Food and Allied Workers Union (Fawu) will today meet representatives of Anheuser-Busch (AB) InBev and SABMiller in a bid to reach an agreement on the fate of the SAB Zenzele employee share programme.

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Fawu general secretary Katishi Masemola said yesterday that Fawu met AB InBev and SABMiller representatives last week and was due to continue with the discussions today.

Fawu has taken an active interest in the mooted multibillion-dollar merger between AB InBev and SABMiller, because some of its members at South African Breweries (SAB), SABMiller’s wholly-owned subsidiary, are beneficiaries of Zenzele.

In a bid to ensure that the workers get a slice of the spoils from the mega deal, the union made submissions when the merger went to the country’s competition authorities. The union has demanded that Zenzele beneficiaries should be treated like other SABMiller shareholders.

Fawu wants the merging companies to accelerate the end of Zenzele so that beneficiaries can be paid out. The scheme is supposed to mature in 2020. Alternatively, the union wanted the companies to pay an ex-gratia, once-off payment of an average of R165 000 per beneficiary, totalling about R1.5 billion, to be paid out in lieu of opportunity cost for staying “locked” in the scheme until 2020, Masemola said.

Public hearings

However, during the tribunal’s public hearings on the deal, Fawu withdrew from the proceedings, ostensibly to keep its options open. The options included approaching the Arbitration Foundation of Southern Africa, “so that we can deal with this issue as a shareholder dispute”, Masemola said yesterday.

The union could also take the matter to the Equality Court or file an application with the Constitutional Court, he said. Fawu has also maintained its threat of a strike if its demands are not met. “That remains an option for us. But that will depend on the outcome of our discussions,” Masemola said.

He said, if the parties failed to agree in their ongoing discussions, Fawu intended to take the matter to the Commission for Conciliation, Mediation and Arbitration for conciliation on Thursday next week. A certificate of non-resolution in a dispute enables a union to embark on a protected strike after giving the employer 48 hours notice.

Both SABMiller and AB InBev yesterday confirmed talks with Fawu. “There are ongoing discussions, and there have been several meetings with Fawu in recent months to discuss Zenzele. We feel confident that the commitments AB InBev and SABMiller have made to enhancing the Zenzele scheme will benefit all participants,” SABMiller spokesman Richard Farnsworth said yesterday. However, he declined to discuss SABMiller’s stance on Fawu’s demands.

AB InBev also said it had met the union “over the past months to explain our commitment to broad-based black economic empowerment and discuss enhancements to the Zenzele scheme”.

The meetings come as AB InBev is steaming ahead with preparatory work for the merger. The brewing giant, which is listed on the JSE, recently unveiled the organisational structure and leadership team of the merged entity. The merger is expected to be completed on October 10, according to a timetable announced by AB InBev earlier this month.