International News - Ahold wins reprieve from strikes

Ahold avoided adding a new catastrophe to its list of woes when 40,000 workers at US chain Stop & Shop voted to accept revised working conditions rather than strike.

Analysts had feared that the troubled Dutch grocer would suffer a repetition of the stand -off in California between Safeway, Kroger and Albertsons and the United Food and Commercial Workers Union (UFCW)-affiliated workers.

The UFCW contract governing Stop & Shop's 220 New England stores expired last week and the chain had argued that employees should start contributing to health insurance premiums. However, the grocer withdrew the request during eleventh-hour negotiations.

Ahold said it was happy with the overall agreement, which would help keep rising healthcare costs under control.

The grocer has decided to shed US stable mates BI-LO and Bruno's this year, as part of restructuring in the wake of financial irregularities revealed last year.

Ahold will focus on its remaining US businesses, including Stop & Shop, Giant-Landover, Giant-Carlisle, Tops and Peapod.