KQ faces pilots’ strike over hiring of expatriates
Posted Thursday, July 5 2012 at 20:30
Kenya Airline Pilots Association (KALPA) has issued a strike threat against Kenya Airways over the national carrier’s plan to hire at least 60 expatriate pilots to support its expansion drive.
KQ says that lack of experienced pilots, especially for long trips, had forced it to look for foreigners to support its expansion plan —which will see it grow its fleet from 34 to 62 planes by 2016.
But the union says that Kenya has enough pilots to support KQ’s expansion plans and that the national carrier is avoiding local fliers due to stringent terms agreed with KALPA.
“We are not issuing a strike notice now, but if the airline does not stop violating the collective bargain agreement we shall issue one. We are ready to go the long-haul,” said Captain Paul Njoroge, the KALPA’s vice-chairman, in a phone interview with the Business Daily on Thursday.
“They haven’t exhausted in-house and the local market options before going out to search for pilots.”
KALPA officials said that the reason the airline was not keen on hiring local pilots was the duty period stipulated in the Collective Bargain Agreement (CBA) that restricts their members to work for 12 hours a day.
Expatriates and non-members are allowed 15 hours, according to the Kenya Civil Aviation Authority. KQ maintained that it does not have enough captains — pilots who have flown for a minimum of 4,000 hours in specific planes like Boeing and Embraer — prompting it to widen its search beyond Kenya.
“We may have enough pilots, but we don’t have enough of those with relevant experience to be captains,” said Mr Titus Naikuni, the CEO of the airline, in an earlier interview with the Business Daily.
Over the past two years, KQ has faced a number of labour unrests involving engineers, cabin crews, and ground workers.
The airline plans a bigger fleet in four years, which will allow it to connect the bulk of Africa’s travellers to the rest of the world through its Nairobi hub. KALPA argues that KQ has 60 co-pilots who can be upgraded to captains.
Aviation experts said that KQ would need to hire at least 200 more pilots, the airline has 405, over the next five years to fly long-haul Boeing and the short-distance Embraer planes.
KQ will have to turn to the talent base of international carriers such as Emirates, Qatar Airways, Ethiopian Airlines, and South African Airways since its local rivals Fly540 and Jetlink operate smaller planes.
A Wall Street Journal report in March indicated that captains earn an annual average salary of $165,278 (Sh13.7 million or Sh1.1 million per month) — a pointer that KQ’s wage bill will emerge as one of the key drivers of its future profits.
The airline’s staff costs stood at Sh11.1 billion in the year to March 2011 compared to Sh10.1 billion in a similar period a year ago, and employee costs are growing as one of the threats to its earnings, especially after the recent 20 per cent pay increment for non-management staff.