KQ reschedules flights as contract staff start go-slow

National carrier Kenya Airways was Sunday hit by a fresh round of turbulence after its outsourced employees went on a go-slow, causing the cancellation of at least six flights.

KQ, as the airline is popularly known, said in a statement that morning flights to Arusha, Juba, Harare, Maputo, Moroni in the Comoros and Mombasa were cancelled, while those destined for Cape Town and Johannesburg had been delayed.

“Some flights have been cancelled or delayed this morning due to a shortage of crew. Some of our outsourced staff, including cabin crew, have stayed away from work and we are working with their employer to resolve any issues they may have,” the airline said in the statement.

Kenya Airways said the cancellation of flights was occasioned by the strict safety regulations that the airline is required to maintain.

“A minimum number of cabin staff per aircraft type is required and on some of our flights we are unable to reach these levels. Despite our effort to solve the problem by combining several flights, we have made the difficult decision to cancel some as the safety of our guests is paramount,” the statement added.

The management said some of those affected by the cancellations would be booked into later flights or alternative airlines even as it reported that at least 60 of 72 scheduled flights had taken off by 2.30 p.m Sunday.

Kenya Airways pilots last week issued a notice indicating that they would down their tools beginning tomorrow (Tuesday) unless a list of conditions are met, including the exit of company chairman Dennis Awori and chief executive Mbuvi Ngunze.

The sub-contracted non-unionised workers, who include ground and cabin crew, have been demanding better employment conditions, having been outsourced from an independent firm, Career Directions. The workers’ representatives said the quest for equal pay, medical benefits, allowances and pension terms availed to their counterparts on KQ’s payroll is at the centre of the dispute.

KQ management is expected to have a full in-tray this week should its pilots, under Kenya Airline Pilots Association (Kalpa), make good their threat to go on strike.

Kalpa officials are expected to meet this morning to discuss the Labour Court’s directive that has outlawed the planned strike.

The ugly dispute between the airline and its pilots has roped in the Transport ministry and the National Assembly – the two arms of government that are seen to be pulling in different directions over the matter.

Leader of Majority in the National Assembly Aden Duale last week appeared to support the pilots with a pronouncement that no government bailout funds for KQ would be approved unless Mr Mbuvi and Mr Awori exit the airline.

Mr Duale further promised that the National Assembly would push for a renegotiation of existing partnerships between KQ and Dutch carrier KLM.

Mr Macharia has described the looming strike as amounting to ‘economic sabotage’, coming at a time when KQ is improving its financial position. The minister also accused the pilots association of overstepping its mandate.

“Only the board and shareholders can determine the exit of the chief executive or board chairman. Kalpa should therefore not force themselves in matters oversight to KQ,” said Mr Macharia.

KQ last week sought to show improvement in its financial position when it released part of its half-year to September results two weeks before schedule.

The statement indicated that the airline’s net loss for the period dropped by 58.3 per cent to Sh5 billion from the Sh12 billion reported in a similar period last year.