Angry passengers caught up in the middle of pilots' strike

Passengers stranded at JKIA departure area after Kenya Airways pilots went on strike for their salaries to be reviewed on November 5, 2022. [David Gichuru, Standard]

Anger flared yesterday at Jomo Kenyatta International Airport as passengers faced the reality of Kenya Airways pilots’ decision to strike.

More than 400 KQ pilots shunned work on Saturday, saying the management had refused to address their grievances. Meanwhile, the management opted to rebook the passengers to other airlines. Others were refunded while their counterparts were hosted in hotels.

One such passenger, who was scheduled to be a master of ceremonies at a wedding in Ghana, caused a commotion as KQ managing director and chief executive officer Allan Kilavuka addressed the media about the situation.

“If you have issues with your government, go deal with it out there. I did business with you. I bought my ticket. So deal with me the way I deal with you. I gave you my money to fly me back to Ghana,” said the frustrated passenger.

KQ boss Kilavuka said the airline is looking into providing lodging for stranded passengers, but that it was difficult because most of the hotels in the area were full.

“We were promised accommodations and free meals, but so far there has been nothing,” said another passenger, whose 6am flight to Botswana was among those impacted after arriving at the airport at 3am.

This was despite KQ losing billions of shillings as its planes remained grounded.

The Kenya Aviation Workers Union (Kawu) called on its members to go on strike starting yesterday afternoon over unmet CBA demands.

In a press release issued yesterday, Kawu asked its members to leave their workstations at 2pm and advised those who were scheduled to report to work to stay at home.

Transport CS Kipchumba Murkomen asked pilots to obey the court order and end the strike. KQ maintains that the strike notice is illegal because the court suspended it.

The union wants, among other demands, reinstatement of a pre-pandemic provident fund.

Following the strike, Murkomen said 10,000 passengers were stranded and more than 15 planes grounded. He urged the pilots to accept dialogue, which might result in the KQ management and the aggrieved group meeting halfway.

The fate of operations at the national carrier remained uncertain with pilots yet to commit to ending the strike. This was despite a five-hour meeting on Thursday night with Murkomen who told them to obey the court order against the strike.

The Kenya Airline Pilots Association (Kalpa) said KQ had failed to address their key grievances. Murkomen urged the pilots to at least wait until Tuesday.

“We had very good consultations related to their (pilots) concerns. We have agreed on principle that we must find a mechanism for further consultation through a small committee,” the CS said.

Murkomen added that the KQ management had expressed willingness to consider the pilots’ demands. However, the pilots had requested to further consult with their colleagues.

“We have asked them to be considerate seeing as there is a court order. But the pilots, through their union, said they need further consultation and promised to give their position.”

Labour CS Florence Mbore said the government will provide an environment for deliberations. “The issues that can be sorted now will be sorted. For those that need more time, we will have PS Peter Tum look into them in a week or so,” she said.

The pilots are asking for the reinstatement of a provident fund that was discontinued at the height of the Covid-19 pandemic in 2020. The fund would see KQ contribute 10 per cent towards their pension while the employer matched the contribution.

Their grievances also include claims of victimisation and harassment of Kalpa members, non-adherence to regulations, the collective bargaining agreement and other signed agreements.

The pilots are not satisfied with the leadership and governance of the troubled airline. However, the KQ Board, led by chairperson Michael Joseph, said “none of the grievances advanced by Kalpa merit an industrial strike and firmly holds that all CBAs must align with the need to restructure the airline’s operations towards profitability and efficiency”.

On October 21, two days after Kalpa had issued a strike notice, the Labour ministry initiated a consultative dialogue, which it would oversee.

Consequently, Kalpa was supposed to call off the strike and await the outcome of the dialogue. However, Kalpa said it “cannot participate in the process with the individuals that are currently holding managerial positions at Kenya Airways”.

Kilavuka said a decision to proceed with the strike will be “unlawful and contrary to the Recognition Agreement and Collective Bargain Agreement, and statute law, which guides our relationship”.

KQ has been going through turbulent times that were aggravated by the Covid-19 pandemic. At the time, both domestic and international flights were grounded as countries sought to curb the spread of the virus. Sources told The Standard that even after the pilots met on Thursday with both the management and government officials, no resolutions were made with the government and KQ insisting there was no money.

KQ reported a Sh9.86 billion loss for the six months ending June 2022.

By Brian Ngugi 46 mins ago
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