Labor Dispute Ends at Super-Sol

The protracted labor dispute at Super-Sol is over. The supermarket chain, controlled by Nochi Dankner's IDB group, signed an agreement with union leaders yesterday and averted a threatened strike.

Super-Sol CEO Avraham Bigger signed the agreement with Ariela Sisu, who chairs the Super-Sol labor union, and Histadrut labor federation representation Yoram Orenstein.

The agreement sweetens most of the employment terms at Super-Sol. The new conditions will be incorporated in a collective employment agreement to run until 2009.

Super-Sol stock has been far from an analysts' favorite of late, earning quite a few "sell" recommendations as it dropped out of the Maof-25 blue chip index. The share gained 2.7 percent on news of yesterday's agreement, which the market expects to result in lower payroll costs and allow the implementation of long-delayed efficiency measures.

The new labor agreement applies to all 6,600 employees of Super-Sol and of its subsidiaries Universe and Cosmos, which it acquired in 1999. The agreement will not apply to 600 people employed under personal contracts or via manpower agencies.

One change agreed upon is that the 2,000 employees of Universe and Cosmos who earn less than Super-Sol workers will have their salaries gradually increased, until parity is achieved in January 2007.

The agreement allows Super-Sol's management to pursue its efficiency plan, which involves closing loss-making branches and firing workers or forcing early retirement. At the moment, though, only one branch is marked for closure, at Ramat Gan's Ayalon mall.

The company plans to take a maximum charge of NIS 30 million for early retirement packages. Sources at the company said it will offer hundreds of employees attractive early retirement packages, which will include compensation based on 175 percent of monthly wages.

New hires will be entitled to tenure after three years. In their first year, they will receive a NIS 400 clothing allowance, which rises to NIS 600 in the second year. From the third year on, the clothing allowance rises to NIS 800.

All employees will receive pension insurance and those working night shifts will get a 60 percent premium over the regular hourly wage.

Vacation time is the only area where work terms will worsen. Each worker loses two days of vacation in 2005, and additional days in early 2006.

One analyst who covers the share remained unmoved by the news. He said that neither Super-Sol nor rival Blue Square will return in the near future to the 4.5-5.0 percent operating profitability that was once their hallmark. "The only thing that could peak my interest in the company is the buy-back offer that Discount Investments announced for 15.8 percent of shares at NIS 10.13. It could suggest a large-scale dividend in the works."