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Kenya Airways pilots win court battle over leave pay

By Kamau Muthoni | January 29th 2021

Kenya Airways (KQ) will have to go back to the drawing board after the Labour Court ordered the airline to pay pilots their full salaries during the period they were on leave due to the Covid-19 pandemic.

In the alternative, Justice Maureen Onyango ordered that KQ should assign the leave taken proportionately to the salary earned during the period, and should not punish pilots who defied a directive to work for more than 12 hours.

The judge, however, dismissed the pilots’ application to punish KQ management for failing to obey orders.

The court apportioned blame for last year’s stalemate to the airline and its employees, finding that the decision by the KQ management to punish pilots who refused to work beyond 12 hours was insensitive, but also that pilots ought to have cooperated with the airline owing to the harsh effects of the pandemic on business.

Rebuild relationship

“Both parties were at fault…I think it would be best to forget what happened at that time and find a more productive manner of rebuilding the relationship between the claimant and the respondent,” Justice Onyango said.

KQ had last year cut the pilots’ salaries but their union complained that it was not consulted. The two, however, negotiated the issue out of court.

The only contention remaining was how to treat leave days.

In the case, it emerged that Kenya Airways owed pilots more than Sh1.8 billion in leave liability accrued for eight years.

The reason for this was that it did not have enough pilots to handle passenger and cargo flights.

However, the Kenya Airline Pilots Association argued that KQ had fired 22 pilots in May last year, which compounded the shortage and its liability.

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