Explainer: What is the problem at Kenya Airways as pilots want board, executives out?

KQ pilots issued a 14-days strike notice demanding for the ouster of the board and executives.

Photo credit: File

What is the problem?

Kenya Airways (KQ) pilots on October 19, 2022 issued a 14-days strike notice demanding for the ouster of the board and executives citing undisclosed governance and leadership issues.

The other issues raised were failure to implement pay agreements (CBA), victimization of Kenya Airline Pilots Asociation (Kalpa) members and payment of monthly pension contribution for staff.

Did KQ management resign to avert the strike as demanded by the pilots before the 14-days period lapsed?

Kenya Airways (KQ) chairman Michael Joseph spurned repeated calls to step down together with the airline’s CEO Allan Kilavuka by pilots.

Mr Joseph, who was handed a fresh three-year term chairman in July, informed the carrier’s workers through memo that there is no justification for their resignation.

The pilots had called for the ouster of the CEO and the board as well as a return of the pension perks to avoid grounding planes.

How else did Kenya Airways respond to strike threats by its pilots?

Kenya Airways, before the expiry of the strike notice period, sought court orders to stop the strike citing the risk of paying hefty fines on cancellation of flights, cash flow strain and revenue losses.

KQ said the strike will cost them approximately Sh300 million per day. In a week, this translates to Sh2.1 billion.

Did the High Court heed to KQ’s plea?

The Labour Court temporarily stopped the strike, which is now threating to ground KQ operations  to a complete stop and derail its recovery from effects of travel restrictions that followed the Covid-19 pandemic.

Employment and Labour relations Judge James Rika said he was not sure whether the case that was brought before him was a claim or a petition, dealing a major blow to the union then. 

The judge directed that further orders before the duty judge will be issued on November 8, 2022.

What did KQ pilots do upon the expiry of the 14 days strike notice?

Kenya Airways (KQ) pilots defied the High Court order that was issued by Justice Rika that had stopped the flyers’ planned strike to down their tools effective yesterday.

The pilots argued that upon the expiry of the strike notice, they were at liberty to “exercise our right to withdraw labour forthwith as enshrined in Article 41, Chapter 4 of the Kenyan constitution.”

What was the immediate impact of this strike to KQ?

The move by KQ pilots to down their tools saw a dozen of flights operated by the fliers cancelled across major airports including Jomo Kenya International Airport (JKIA).

About 23 planes destined for regional and international destinations were canceled at the largest airport in Kenya and East Africa yesterday with two KQ planes that were scheduled to leave for Mumbai rescheduled.

About 10,000 passengers were also stranded at the airport after their flights were delayed or rescheduled, with many of them blaming Kenya Airways for the mess.

This strike action, according to the board, will cost KQ approximately Sh300 million per day. In a week, this translates to Sh2.1 billion.

Did KQ pilots accept to tweak its demands to avert the crisis?

KQ pilots, through Kalpa, have categorically stated they will not go back to work until their demands are met. Kalpa has listed four irreducible minimums that must be met by KQ management before they can resume work. 

This includes resumption of staff provided fund. They have also insisted that they will only go back to work if union members, including first officer Mwenda Mabura, James Karuiru, Tracey Adhiambo and Washington Nyakinda whom they claim were dismissed illegally, are reinstated back to work.

Kalpa is also demanding that KQ must adhere to all signed documents that have been agreed between Kalpa and KQ and any future deviations will be in consultation with the union.

Is KQ management willing to meet Kalpa demands to resolve the stalemate?

Yes. KQ management has urged pilots to reconsider the industrial action, saying it is ready to sit down with Kalpa to resolve the stalemate.

Kenya Airways argues that this is not the time for sabotage adding that the strike will water down recovery efforts made by the airlines in the last few months.

The strike, KQ says puts at risk the goodwill and support they have received from its customers, the government and the Kenyan taxpayers.