Travel plans for over 10,000 Kenya Airways (KQ) passengers have been thwarted Saturday after 400 pilots of the national carrier went on strike starting 6:00am. Over 6,000 tonnes of cargo have already been affected, KQ said.
Transport Cabinet Secretary Kipchumba Murkomen, who led 5-hour talks between the KQ’s pilots lobby and the government late into Friday night, has termed the industrial action economic sabotage.
“We requested the pilots to call off the strike even as the proposed committee addresses their concerns. Kenya Airways and the Kenya Airline Pilots Association (KALPA) officials asked for a two-hour time off to consult on the matter.
“Unfortunately, they did not heed the calls to suspend the strike which has led to massive disruptions in Kenya Airways operations,” explained Mr Murkomen.
At the moment, KQ is re-routing its international air traffic to rival Ethiopia Airlines as budget carrier Jambo Jet picks up domestic travelers.
On Friday, Kenya Airways CEO Allan Kilavika noted that the industrial action is set to cost the airline Kes300 million per day or just over Kes2 billion every week.
On Saturday, Mr Kilavuka added that the company has ordered the pilots 24 hours to resume their jobs or face further disciplinary action.
At the core of the pilots’ demands is a request that their salaries and benefits that were suspended when Covid-19 pandemic hit be reinstated.
The 400-member lobby is also demanding the payment of worker’s provident fund contributions that were frozen when the pandemic choked the business about two years ago.
Mr Murkomen, who took over the docket last week will also be managing another crisis in the aviation industry after the Kenya Aviation Workers Union on Saturday asked their members including airport customer service personnel, and ground flight safety staff to down their tools, too.
The lobby is demanding the implementation of a 2019 collective bargaining agreement with secretary-general Moses Ndiema saying they’ll be on strike “until Kenya Airports Authority management finds the need and the urgency to conclude the CBA.”
“This morning, I visited the Jomo Kenyatta International Airport (JKIA) and was saddened to learn that so far, over 15 flights have been canceled and 10,000 passengers stranded,” said Mr Murkomen.
Apart from the estimated Kes300 loss per day, the strike will negatively affect the economy, especially the transport and tourism sectors.
Recently, a court order suspended the strike and gave the established committee a chance to work on resolving the pilots’ grievances.