Kenya Airways softens stance on sacking pilots as strike looms


Kenya Airways CEO Allan Kilavuka. FILE PHOTO | DIANA NGILA | NMG

Kenya Airways chief executive Allan Kilavuka has eased his stance on pilots’ demands, instead pleading for patience ahead of the planned strike next week.

In a memo sent to staff on Friday and seen by Business Daily, Mr Kilavuka urged reconsidering the industrial action, saying all dispute resolution mechanisms have not been exhausted.

“Colleagues, I reiterate that this is not the time for sabotage. We are slowly but surely getting out of the woods. What we need now is your continued commitment. The strike notice puts at risk the goodwill and support we have received from our customers, the government and the Kenyan taxpayers,” he said.

The airline had threatened to sack pilots who go on strike after Tuesday’s talks with their union collapsed.

The Kenya Airline Pilots Association (Kalpa), which represents about 400 pilots, issued a 14-day strike notice last week to protest a decision to suspend contributions to the provident fund, which they claim is a contractual agreement that KQ has with all employees.

The pilots said that KQ has unilaterally stopped both the employees’ and the employers’ contributions since 2020 and has failed to resume the retirement scheme.

“Going by projections in the first half of 2023, we shall resume Provident Fund contributions in quarter three of 2023. However, if staff feel otherwise, we could suspend the payment of deferred pay and resume the Provident Fund,” the CEO said in the memo.

The airline is currently paying employees the deferred portion of the pay occasioned by salary cuts effected during the Covid-19 pandemic. The prioritisation of this payment, KQ says, followed numerous requests from staff.

The CEO on Wednesday said that reviving the Provident Fund, the bone of contention, would have to be at the expense of something else.

Kalpa, in a letter to the CEO, cited the withdrawal of the Provident Fund and alleged harassment of union officials as the trigger for the strike. The pilots’ other grievances are non-adherence to regulations, violation of the collective bargaining agreement (CBA), and leadership and governance issues. The last recent strike by the pilots was in November 2016.

The airline, which has been surviving on State bailouts since the Covid-19 pandemic, reported a Sh9.8 billion loss in August — a better performance than the Sh11.48 billion loss it recorded in the same period a year earlier.

It booked a further Sh5.3 billion loss on hedged foreign exchange differences, driving its total comprehensive loss to Sh14.9 billion.