Kenya Airways: Pilot strike will cost us Sh300m a day

A Kenya Airways plane.

Photo credit: File

Kenya Airways (KQ) has revealed that a planned strike by pilots will cost the national carrier Sh300 million a day, while insisting that the move is unlawful and unnecessary.

This comes after its pilots indicated that they will down their tools starting Saturday, November 5, making good on their threat to paralyse operations at the national carrier over a row on deferred salaries and pension contributions.

"We cannot understate the severe economic impact of this action on different sectors and the entire ecosystem reliant on KQ...It will cost KQ approximately Sh300 million a day and Sh2.1 billion a week," a statement from CEO Allan Kilavuka said. 

The Kenya Association of Air Operators has also thrown its weight behind the airline, noting that the strike by pilots would affect the entire aviation sector. 

The planned industrial action underlines the deteriorating relations between the airline's management and staff, even as the former claims to be struggling financially and is unable to fully meet the pilots' demands.

In a statement on Friday, the Kenya Airline Pilots Association (Kalpa) said KQ management had refused to resolve issues facing the workforce, leaving them with no other option.

“We hoped that the management of the airline would soften its hard stance and engage in … negotiation on the issues raised. KQ management has not made any meaningful attempt to engage and have matters resolved, said the statement from Kalpa general-secretary Murithi Nyagah read.

“Beginning Saturday, November 5, 2022, from 6am local time, there shall be no KQ aircraft departing Jomo Kenyatta International Airport flown by a Kalpa member,” the association stated.

But Kalpa’s move is in contempt of court because the High Court this week ordered them not to proceed with industrial action per their notice on October 19.

Despite the orders from the Employment and Labour Relations Court stopping the strike, Kalpa on Friday said attempts to have KQ management address their grievances had failed.

"Sadly, KQ management's actions have left us with no other option," the association said.

The move follows a series of failed negotiation attempts between the association and KQ management, with each side accusing the other of unwillingness to resolve the issues amicably.

The pilots are demanding full reinstatement of the airline’s pension contributions (called Provident Fund), where 10 per cent of employees’ salaries is cut and channelled to the fund, with KQ matching the amount.

The airline suspended the fund in 2020 after Covid-19 struck Kenya and has not resumed it, arguing that it hasn’t fully recovered from the impact of the pandemic.

Pilots also want employees’ salaries that were deferred during the same period to be repaid. The airline resumed paying the deferred salaries in June and projects to complete them by June 2023. On Tuesday, the management said it had settled 40 per cent of the Sh6.57 billion in total deferred salaries.

The management accused Kalpa of refusing to talk and ignoring offers KQ placed on the table, including a staggered resumption of the Provident Fund, such as starting with contributions of an amount lower than 10 per cent.

But the association makes similar accusations and says it will go ahead with the strike, starting Saturday at 6am.

“The strike notice has since expired and we are therefore at liberty to exercise our right to withdraw our labour forthwith, as enshrined in Article 41, chapter 4 of the Kenyan constitution,” Mr Nyagah stated.

“Kalpa takes this opportunity to apologize to the passengers who will be affected and regret all inconvenience caused to your travel plans.”

KQ Managing Director Allan Kilavuka this week threatened legal action against the pilots if they disobeyed the court order and proceeded to go on strike.