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KQ pilots: We're not testing the limits of President Ruto's government

Kenya Airways pilots addressing journalists at Rubani House in Embakasi, Nairobi on November 5, 2022 following paralysis of flight operations at the JKIA. [Wilberforce Okwiri, Standard]

The Kenya Airline Pilots Association (KALPA) says its members that work for KQ have downed tools for valid reasons, and not to test the limits of the new administration.

More than 400 KQ pilots shunned work on Saturday, claiming that the management of Kenya Airways had refused to address their grievances.

The pilots are demanding that KQ restarts contributions to its staff pension fund that was stopped during the Covid-19 pandemic, and the payment of all salaries that were accrued at the time.

The KQ pension scheme needs at least Sh1.3 billion annually, with pilots taking home the largest chunk of the kitty – Sh700 million – which is equivalent to 53.8 per cent of the funds.

The KQ pilots also want the airline’s board and executives removed, citing governance issues.

Following their strike on Saturday, Transport Cabinet Secretary Kipchumba Murkomen said 10,000 passengers were stranded and more than 15 planes grounded at the JKIA.

Murkomen urged the pilots to accept dialogue, which might result in the KQ management and the aggrieved group meeting halfway.

“The Government of Kenya has injected billions of shillings in its efforts to turn around the fortunes of Kenya Airways, and is, therefore, keen to see these issues resolved. For progress to be made on this front, therefore, it is imperative that KALPA calls off the strike and returns to the negotiation table,” said Murkomen.

Addressing journalists at KALPA headquarters at Rubani House in Embakasi on Saturday afternoon, the pilots said they were willing to return to work only if their demands are met, or if a clear path to meeting the demands is revealed.

“We’re ready to resume work even today, so long as our grievances are addressed,” said KALPA Secretary-General Captain Murithi Nyagah.

“There could be a notion out there that we’re striking to test the limits of the new government, whose reign began just the other day. That is not the case. We have grievances that have been unaddressed for far too long. KALPA believes it’s now time to have them resolved once and for all,” said Captain Nyagah.

The KALPA official said KQ pilots had, for long, sought an audience with the top management of the airline, but their pleas fell on deaf ears.

“We hope the industrial action would prompt KQ’s management to call us to the negotiating table for a sober discussion. We sympathise with the passengers who have been affected by the strike,” said Captain Nyagah.

The government said the industrial action would subject KQ to a daily revenue loss of Sh300 million.

“The strike is counterproductive if you consider the demands made by the pilots. The strike will also negatively affect the economy, especially the transport and tourism sectors,” said Transport CS Murkomen.

A Friday evening (November 4) crisis meeting between the KALPA representatives and CS Murkomen did not yield a return-to-work agreement.

In the evening the KQ management, led by Chief Executive Officer Allan Kilavuka, said they were ready to negotiate with the pilots in order to avert the looming industrial action.

On Saturday, tens of outbound flights were cancelled, with the KQ communicating to its customers that the interruption was as a result of the pilots’ strike.

“Due to the ongoing unlawful industrial action by Kenya Airline Pilots Association (KALPA), we are experiencing high call volumes at our Customer Excellence Centre. Please contact us only if you are travelling within 48 hours. Kindly accept our apologies for the inconvenience,” KQ said in a statement on Saturday morning.

CS Murkomen drove to the JKIA early Saturday to meet KQ CEO Kilavuka and Board Chairperson Michael Joseph.