German supermarkets settle dispute to save 15,000 jobs


Frankfurt (AFP)

The German economy minister on Monday said two leading retailers had settled a dispute over the takeover of loss-making supermarket chain Kaiser's Tengelmann, saving some 15,000 jobs.

The agreement will pave the way for the country's largest supermarket group Edeka to take over Kaiser's stores while a financial settlement for rival group Rewe would be worked out in coming days.

"The efforts have paid off to secure the jobs of 15,000 people," Economy Minister Sigmar Gabriel told reporters.

He gave few details about the agreement, saying only that a "balance of interests" had been reached between the arguing parties.

A source close to the negotiations told AFP that the agreement could also see Rewe take over some of Kaiser's stores in Berlin.

The breakthrough in the long-running spat came just a week after all sides agreed to last-ditch mediation talks led by ex-chancellor Gerhard Schroeder.

The saga began some two years ago when Edeka announced plans to take over the more than 400 stores owned by struggling Kaiser's Tengelmann, despite concerns this would distort competition.

Gabriel controversially gave the deal a special ministerial seal of approval, under the condition that no jobs would be lost, prompting several supermarket rivals to file a legal challenge that blocked the takeover.

Running out of patience, Kaiser's Tengelmann this month floated the prospect of breaking up the chain, which would have to led to mass lay-offs and gave fresh urgency to finding a solution.

Gabriel said Rewe had promised to withdraw its complaint by November 11.

Rewe was the last holdout after groups Markant and Norma had already dropped their objections.

Kaiser's employees will have job security for seven years under the new agreement, Gabriel added.