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KQ wins big in lengthy row with lobby over pilots’ sacking

By Kamau Muthoni | May 24th 2020

Kenya Airways (KQ) has won a protracted court battle with its pilots over a decision to retire 10 of them in 2015 following reduced business.

KQ had hired at least 39 pilots to fly its Boeing 777 aircraft but in 2014 decided to rest the B777-2000 and B777-300 fleet and offer early retirement with full benefits to 10 of the pilots.

The decision saw the Kenya Airline Pilots Association (Kapa) move to court. The association argued that the national carrier had unfairly fired its members and they deserved more compensation.

According to the association, those affected by the redundancy notices were not given an opportunity to be heard.

But KQ denied liability and urged the court to surcharge its pilots for an alleged go-slow. It claimed it lost Sh49 million for a month that pilots declined to fly in protest against the decision.

While agreeing with KQ, Court of Appeal judges Roslyne Nambuye and Asike Makhandia ruled that the affected pilots did not deserve compensation for wrongful dismissal as their employer had opted to retire them in a bid to restructure its business and not as a result of a disciplinary process.

“We have stated that what led to the premature retirement of the aggrieved pilots did not arise from any disciplinary proceedings initiated against them by the respondent but from the respondent’s desire to restructure its business operations arising from alleged lack of profits,” the judges ruled.

“It is not disputed as conceded that they (pilots) were informed of the intention to exit the B777 fleet way back in November 2014; that upon being served with early retirement letters by the respondent, only two went back to renegotiate. The eight did not because they wanted to pursue the redundancy route. They were, therefore, given an opportunity to be heard. We find no merit in this complaint and it is rejected.”

In its defence, KQ had argued it had floated the idea of retiring four and retaining six pilots on renegotiated pay or retaining all and then deploying them to fly other aircraft on renegotiated pay. Both offers were declined. The lobby denied calling for the strike.

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