Strike action by Kenya Airways pilots is economic sabotage, Transport CS Murkomen says

Kenya Airways

Kenya Airways planes. 

Photo credit: Courtesy

Transport  Cabinet Secretary Kipchumba Murkomen on Saturday said he is saddened by the ongoing work boycott by Kenya Airways pilots. 

Mr Murkomen termed the strike action unlawful and economic sabotage as he urged Kenya Airline Pilots Association (Kalpa) to obey the court order and suspend the boycott.  

The CS said by Saturday morning at least 15 flights had been cancelled and 10,000 passengers stranded.

"It is estimated that the airline will lose Sh300 million daily as a result of the strike which is counterproductive if you consider the demands made by the pilots. Apart from that, the strike will negatively affect the economy, especially the transport and tourism sectors," Mr Murkomen said in a statement.

Meanwhile, Kenya Airways Chief Executive Officer Allan Kilavuka has given pilots 24 hours to return to work, hours after the pilots downed their tools.

Kilavuka said the the strike which began at 6am Saturday, November 5, has affected 9,000 travellers so far. He added that the strike has further led to stalling of 6,000 tonnes of cargo.

Kenya Airline Pilots Association (KALPA), Secretary General Cap. Murithii Nyagah in a statement to the media confirmed the pilots were on strike. He said, “The strike is fully in force; KALPA members are exercising their right to withdraw their labour forthwith.”

While addressing the media at Jomo Kenyatta International Airport Kilavuka said the pilots have up to 11:30 am on Sunday, November 6, to report back to work.

The go-slow has already left many stranded and according to the KQ CEO, the company is scrambling to find accommodation for some of its travellers. “We have made a lot of effort to accommodate many passengers who are stuck here because they could not connect their flight. Unfortunately, the majority of the hotels in Nairobi are full and we are seeking alternative means of accommodation,” he said.

The strike comes hours after a five-hour crisis meeting on Friday failed to yield results. The meeting brought together Kalpa, Transport CS Kipchumba Murkomen, Labour CS Florence Bore, and KQ representatives in a bid to find a solution to the simmering crisis at the national carrier.

According to Murkomen, Kalpa representative asked for a break in negotiations yesterday to further consult with their members and the meeting was set to resume Saturday morning.

However, in their statement on Saturday, the pilots union said the carrier’s management declined to listen to their proposals on how to resolve their grievances.

Both Murkomen and Kilavuka have termed the strike as unlawful and maintain they are open for dialogue. Kalpa on the other hand says onus is on KQ management to set up genuine talks.

“As we have stated on numerous occasions, including in the meeting convened by the government yesterday, Kalpa is ready and willing to listen to proposals in genuine negotiations that ensure both parties come to an agreeable position,” said Nyagah.

KQ’s decision to halt provident fund contributions, which pilots allege violates a contract with all employees, provoked the pilots union leading to the issuance of the strike notice. The Labour Court on Monday halted the strike temporarily.

The pilots claim that KQ arbitrarily stopped employer and employee contributions beginning in 2020 and has subsequently neglected to restart the retirement programme.

Kilavuka holds that the industrial action by pilots could see it lose at least Sh300 million every day and could cause irreversible damage. “If the strike continues for a month, it will cost us between Sh8-10 billion. That will make that irreversible. This airline cannot be to withstand such losses,” he said.