Kenya Airways staff demand better pay with strike action


KQ engineers conduct pre-flight checks on an airplane. Passengers flying to Juba, Entebbe, Kisumu, Addis Ababa and Dar es Salaam are among those affected by the Monday strike. PHOTO | FILE

Demand for higher pay and management changes were behind Monday’s industrial action that paralysed national carrier Kenya Airways operations at Nairobi’s Jomo Kenyatta International Airport (JKIA), the Business Daily can report.

Kenya Airways technical workers said in a letter to the airline’s management that they are being paid below industry standards – a situation that had been aggravated by the recent withdrawal of some of their allowances.

“The technical production team is the lowest paid locally, leave alone internationally. Currently, there is a pay discrepancy that is affecting our morale,” reads part of the letter, which is addressed to the airline’s chairman.

The memorandum also calls for clarity in the management structure indicating that employees are currently working under an unclear managerial structure that is characterised by duplication of roles.

This latest labour crisis at the national carrier comes less than two months after it averted a strike by pilots and contract workers.

Monday’s go-slow disrupted operations at the JKIA and delayed at least nine flights, mostly on African destinations.

Passengers flying to Juba, Abuja, Dar es Salaam and Addis Ababa were among those affected. KQ, as the airline is also known, however said the situation had improved by 1 p.m, and that 51 out of 58 scheduled flights had taken off.

“We would like to advise our guests that while we have some delays due to a number of our technicians going on a go slow, most of our flights are on schedule today,” said Kenya Airways in a statement.

The technical workers are demanding a reshuffle of senior management within their department – in a move they say should include the exit of a director they claim has failed to address their concerns.

READ: Kenya Airways announces flight disruptions as engineers go on strike

The workers allege that under the director, the department has seen mass exodus of staff to competing carriers.

KQ has recently expressed frustration at the loss of highly skilled engineers and pilots to rival carriers. In the past one year alone, the airline has lost more than 60 pilots as Middle Eastern airlines stepped up head-hunting in the region.

Dubai-based Emirates Group recently began advertising locally for Kenyan-based electrical, electronic, mechanical and automobile engineers to join its ranks.

Technical workers are particularly important to KQ’s operations because they are charged with aircraft maintenance and refuelling. Some have to sign-off before a flight can take-off. 

In October, KQ averted a potentially-crippling pilots’ strike by acquiescing to demands for managerial changes. The airline’s pilots had demanded the removal of the airline’s board chairman and chief executive officer.

State House intervention, however, removed the strike threat leading to the departure of Dennis Awori as chairman and his replacement by Michael Joseph.  The airline’s chief executive, Mbuvi Ngunze, is set to leave at the end of March 2017.

READ: Inside State House deal that helped avert KQ pilots strike

Nevertheless, KQ suffered disruptions to its activities on October 16 in a separate industrial action that saw contract workers embark on a go-slow in demand for permanent and pensionable terms.

The workers, contracted through third party Career Directions, have since resumed their posts pending negotiations with KQ.  

“They’ve established an employees’ council and we are in talks. No disciplinary action has been taken against those workers who went on a go-slow. We are reviewing four cases of indiscipline,” said Career Directions managing director Lucy Mmari.

Kenya Airways is deep in the red having reported a Sh4.8 billion loss in the six months to September 2016. This was, however, still a significant improvement from the Sh11.95 billion loss recorded in a similar period last year.

A draft audit by Deloitte partly laid the blame for KQ’s woes on mismanagement and theft within the company. Kenya Airways, whose major shareholders include Dutch airline KLM and the government, needs about Sh60 billion to climb out of its financial hole.

Shareholder hopes now lie with Mr Joseph who is expected to bring to KQ brand management skills honed while he was chief executive of Safaricom.

In previous interviews with the Business Daily, Mr Joseph has indicated that a core part of his turn-around plan for KQ will be strengthening the management team including rooting out any rotten apples fingered by the final Deloitte report.

As one of his first hires, Mr Joseph brought on board former KLM executive Vincent Coste as commercial director, filling a post that has remained vacant since October 2015.

Mr Coste’s mandate will be over ticket pricing and sales— crucial for a carrier that has on occasion been accused of failing to be competitive in its pricing.

Mr Joseph had also said that he would renegotiate parts of a 16-year passenger sharing agreement with KLM which, it has been argued, favours the Dutch airline.  

By the time we went to press, Kenya Airways management was yet to comment on the workers’ demands.