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Pilots face the sack after failing to strike pay deal with KQ and government

Captain Muriithi Nyagah (centre), the CEO and General Secretary of Kalpa, addresses the press, November 7, 2022. [Edward Kiplimo, Standard]

Negotiations between the striking pilots of Kenya Airways and their employer ended in a stalemate as government asked the management of the troubled airline to fire any pilot who will not return to work.

Even as the pilots refused to call off the strike, the management of Kenya Airways, known as KQ by its international code, opted to advertise for the striking pilot’s jobs, opening a new battleground with its workers.

It is a move that is likely to aggravate an industrial stalemate that has since Saturday paralysed operations at the Jomo Kenyatta International Airport (JKIA) with KQ noting that it had already lost hundreds of millions through cancellations.

“We have lost lots of money and people must be held accountable. They need to explain why they have disobeyed court orders,” said Kenya Airways CEO Allan Kilavula.

More than 400 KQ pilots under the Kenya Airline Pilots Association (Kalpa) kept off work from Saturday, saying the management had refused to address their grievances, including reinstating a provident fund, ending victimisation of union and Kalpa members and respecting their collective bargaining agreements and memorandum of understanding.  

Cabinet Secretary for Labour Florence Bore regretted that pilots had refused to concede even after the KQ management acceded to some of their demands.

As a result, she gave KQ’s management the greenlight to fire those who refused to return to work, nothing that the strike was illegal having been stopped by Labour and Employment Relations Court.

Bore also advised KQ to initiate contempt of court proceedings against all those who violated the court order that had prohibited the strike.

“The right to strike is not absolute and is limited by the Constitution under Article 24 and to the extent defined by law,” said Bore in a statement.   

The pilots, however, insisted that they had always been open to talks noting that a meeting they were to hold with Bore never materialised by the time of going to press.

“Contrary to reports circulating that we have refused to negotiate, we would like to clarify that Kalpa is the only party in this matter that has been making attempts to bridge the gap between KQ management and ourselves,” said Captain Muriithi Nyagah, the CEO and General Secretary of Kalpa.

The pilots noted that while KQ had made some concessions, the management had refused to return to the negotiating table until their members resumed duties, a move that Kalpa described as being “contrary to the return-to-work formula that is founded on dialogue.”

Persistent harassment

They noted that the persistent of harassment of their members only served to agonize than inspire confidence.

KALPA's industrial action has since Saturday paralysed operations at the Jomo Kenyatta International Airport (JKIA). [David Gichuru, Standard]

Earlier, the Central Organization of Trade Unions (Cotu) had asked the Cabinet Secretary for Transport Kipchumba Murkomen to keep the ongoing industrial action by the pilots of Kenya Airways, opening yet another battlefront in three-day strike that left passengers stranded at the JKIA.

Cotu, the umbrella trade union, blamed the government through the ministry of labour for failing to give dialogue between the pilots and their employer, Kenya Airways, a chance.

Speaking at their offices in Nairobi, Cotu deputy secretary general Benson Okwaro said the government had failed to initiate proper dialogue with the interested parties.

“Matters strike and industrial disputes affecting the transport sector cannot be mediated by the Ministry of Transport. This is a matter within the mandate and prerogative of the Ministry of Labour,’’ he said.

Murkomen had threatened Kenya Airways pilots with disciplinary action unless they ended their strike, noting that they were defying court orders.

“I urge the pilots to be mindful of the consequences of defying a court order and to urgently return to work because impunity cannot be an option,” he 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.