Minister now declares KQ pilots’ strike plan illegal


Transport and Infrastructure secretary James Macharia (left) and Kenya Airways chief executive Mbuvi Ngunze. Mr Macharia described the impending industrial action as unjustified given KQ’s improving financial position. PHOTO | FILE

Transport secretary James Macharia has declared the planned strike by Kenya Airways’ pilots illegal, warning that participating in the industrial action at a time the airline is trying to recover amounts to economic sabotage.

Mr Macharia’s response came five days before the strike commencement date and on the day the national carrier announced that its half-year loss had dropped by Sh7 billion.

The minister said in a statement sent to newsrooms that the Kenya Airline Pilots Association (Kalpa) overstepped its mandate in calling for the October 18 strike and demanding the exit of the airline’s chief executive and chairman.

READ: KQ pilots in fresh strike notice, demand exit of top management

Mr Macharia described the impending industrial action as unjustified given KQ’s improving financial position, adding that the Kalpa leadership’s demands appear to be solely driven by “personal gain” without giving dialogue a chance.

“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,” he said.

Air France-KLM group and the Treasury are Kenya Airways’ two largest shareholders with 26.7 per cent and 29.8 per cent stake respectively.

Mr Macharia’s issued the statement after a Cabinet meeting that also resolved that public officials will henceforth use KQ while travelling outside on official duty.

The statement came hours after KQ announced that it was Sh5 billion in the red in the first six months of its financial year ended September, an improvement from the massive Sh11.95 billion loss it posted during a similar period last year.

That outcome came on the back of a Sh2 billion improvement in the carrier’s operating position to close at a loss of Sh176 million, helped by an 89,000 increase in passenger numbers to 2.23 million.

The airline was to officially release the half-year results on October 27, but the looming industrial action forced its hand, prompting its publication a fortnight early.

Mr Macharia asked the pilots to retract their strike threat, noting that “government will use all levers available under the law to take action against those who defy the directive.”

“Kalpa leadership and its membership should take note that taking part in any strike at KQ during this delicate stage of its recovery is tantamount to economic and national sabotage,” he said.

“The government, along with other shareholders, is fully appraised of the KQ turnaround strategy and is confident that the company is on the path to recovery.”

KQ pilots accuse chief executive Mbuvi Ngunze and its chairman, Dennis Awori, of mismanaging the public-listed firm, leaving it desperate for a bailout of approximately Sh60 billion to stay afloat.

Kalpa, which is made up of approximately 450 members, had vowed not to fly KQ’s fleet of about 36 aircraft if the two individuals remain in office by Monday evening.

The pilots also rubbished KQ’s impending half-year results announcement, saying the public should not be “hoodwinked” by the financial bounce back.

Paul Gichinga, Kalpa’s secretary-general, said the performance was based on unsustainable strategies that relied heavily on “cost-cutting and not revenue generation.”

Last July KQ hired consultancy firm McKinsey to help development a 24-item strategy to be implemented in one and a half years.

This restructuring is expected to boost KQ’s bottom-line by about Sh20 billion, adding to the Sh14.6 billion expected from the sale of assets, including land and aircraft.

But the pilots have dismissed the plan as lacking vision, insisting that only a new management could turn around the airline.

“With every passing day, it becomes clear that Kenya Airways’ leadership lacks a clear vision, the right synergies and the willpower to lead the airline’s recovery efforts,” the pilots said.

Yesterday, Mr Gichinga declined to give a definitive response to Mr Macharia’s statement, stating that “nothing had changed.”

Kalpa early this year went on strike for a day, forcing  cancellation of about 25 flights and occasioning the national carrier to lose approximately Sh200 million in revenues.

Additional reporting by Muthoki Mumo