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It’s not too late to resolve the pay row at KQ

By | August 15th 2009

It is regrettable Kenya Airways employees have gone on strike to push for a salary increment.

While officials of the Union of Aviation and Allied Workers are justified in their demand for a pay raise, resorting to drastic measures does not help matters.

It is also sad that the Kenya Airways (KQ) management did not anticipate this.

Although the Industrial Court issued a temporary stay order prohibiting the planned strike, the management appears not to have taken advantage of this window.

While 3,500 engineers, check-in staff, clerical workers and baggage handlers are pushing for better pay and working conditions, the damage their action inflicts on the industry is hard to quantify in monetary terms.

For instance, travel plans of thousands of passengers could be disrupted if the matter is not resolved amicably — and soon.

The timing is also inappropriate, especially now that the economy is almost on its knees and the country faces a food, energy and water crisis.

The economic woes have virtually hit all sectors, eroding individual incomes and wealth. However, a 130 per cent demand by the union is on the higher side. While the union has indicated that the decision to down tools is final, there is still room for negotiation.

It is important that the wide disparities in staff salaries and alleged intimidation by the management be addressed.

It is commendable that Kenya Airways has moved ground and offered a 13 per cent raise to be spread over two years.

Further, the airline has also pledged to raise house allowances from Sh6,000 to Sh10,000, which the workers have rejected.

These are hard times financially, especially in the wake of the global financial crisis that has seen the dwindling of fortunes for many companies, including Kenya Airways.

Coupled with rising inflation, workers have been left poorer.

With the cost of living shooting up, it is understandable why workers are demanding a hefty salary increase. However, much as we sympathise with the situation, a strike is not the best alternative to resolve industrial disputes.

Already the company has lost so much in the short period the workers have downed tools. If the dispute is not resolved soon the company may not recover from the huge end-year loss it posted.

Already, several flights were cancelled yesterday and more could if the standoff persists—to the detriment of both parties.

First, the loss to Kenya Airways is huge and unwarranted. The workers, too, won’t gain anything if the strike continues.

Furthermore, Kenyan airspace is likely to be unsafe, a matter that is likely to attract negative international attention.

We hold the view that issues raised by workers in the airline industry should have been discussed and an amicable solution found. The matter should not have reached this level.

It should not have taken the Kenya Airways management this long to figure out that workers were dissatisfied with pay conditions.

A quick solution should have been on the cards long before the strike threats.

The union, too, should have taken the offer from the management and used it to bargain for more. We ask the parties, workers and the Kenya Airways management, to return to the negotiating table.

This is the only way to reach consensus and end the industrial action.

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