Flag carrier Kenya Airways (KQ) is flying into headwinds after the Kenya Airline Pilots Association (KALPA), declared strike action starting at 6.00 am local, November 5. KALPA said there would be no Kenya Airways departure flown by its members from the carrier’s hub at Jomo Kenyatta International Airport starting Saturday morning.  There is a threat of disruption as Kenya Airways pilots press on with strike action.

The announcement capped a week of tensions during which the two sides stuck to their positions a day before the expiry of a 14-day strike notice issued by KALPA on October 19. Parallel press conferences on November 1 highlighted the mounting crisis as KALPA made clear its resolve to commence industrial action while Kenya Airways management dug in, as the board rejected KALPA’s demand for the sacking of chief executive Allan Kilavuka, the immediate settlement of deferred pay and reinstatement of the staff provident fund. 

The pilots’ lobby representing some 400 pilots in the country said its action, which comes in defiance of an October 31 injunction, was inevitable after Kenya Airways failed to “make any meaningful attempt to engage” and resolve the pilots’ grievances. 

Sadly, Kenya Airways management has left us with no other option. KALPA takes this opportunity to apologize to passengers who will be affected and regret all inconveniences caused to tour travel plans,” KALPA General Secretary and chief executive Captain Murithi Nyagah said in a statement released earlier today. 

The association also claimed a witch-hunt targeting its executive members. 

It was not immediately clear how many of KALPA’s members work at KQ. Still, the airline warned on November 1 that the strike could impose a daily penalty of $ 2.47 million. 

In its plea to KALPA, the carrier said their action would roll back a steady recovery which had seen numbers surge to an average of 250,000 passengers monthly. The carrier added that it could not sustain the recovery if it were to settle deferred pay and reinstate the staff provident fund simultaneously. Doing so requires additional government funding, which could not be guaranteed in the current environment of competing priorities. 

We cannot afford to pay the deferred salaries and the Provident Fund at the same time. We appreciate the Government’s support that has enabled KQ to remain in operation during this difficult time. We are, however, cognisant that the Government has more pressing challenges, like the current drought, and we must do all we can to become self-sustaining,” Kilavuka said. 

Kilavuka also revealed that previous efforts at mediation over the grievances had hit a dead end after KALPA stated that its demands were non-negotiable. The pilots’ association did not show up at an October 31 meeting called by the government-appointed conciliator. 

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Michael Wakabi

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