CHUMO: Kenya Airways should reset its industrial relations approach

Pilot's strike

Kenya Airlines Pilots Association (KALPA) members before the Employment and Labour Relations Court on November 8, 2022. PHOTO | FRANCIS NDERITU | NMG

The rule of thumb in industrial relations is that when the union reports a dispute to management, it should be taken seriously.

The management should quickly establish a dispute resolution committee comprising an equal number of members from either side to quickly commence negations over the dispute with a view to resolving it.

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The reason this rule is important in industrial relations is that, during such negations, either party is not supposed to take any action. The union will suspend the strike while the management will not fire anybody during negotiations.

The negotiations should be done in good faith and without pressure from either side. It is during these negotiations that management can consult widely on how to resolve the grievances to avoid a strike.

This is when consultations should be in high gear by both sides of the dispute. Management would tactfully delay negotiations to create time to look for resources to meet the demands on the grievance list.

The negotiations should be kept in-house as business goes on uninterrupted. Neither party should introduce strangers to the negotiations other than the mutually agreed members representing both parties to the dispute.

The negotiations should go on regardless of what either party has listed as a grievance. Whatever demands are negotiable, even the most ridiculous ones.

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When management decline to engage union officials in the initial negotiations over the grievances reported, then they lose the opportunity to forestall a strike.

This lost opportunity constitutes common but costly mistake managers make with devastating consequences to the business. After the strike is unleashed, customers, shareholders and the rest of the stakeholders are brought to the brawl.

All parties will be on deck to try to 'solve’ the problem, and stop the strike. Even those who have no idea what should be done in such circumstances, come in to ‘help’.

During the recent Kenya Airways industrial dispute, one could see in the media the striking pilots showing a willingness to negotiate while the KQ leadership were rubbishing their demands in public, a clear indication of where the problem lies.

What happened at JKIA is an indictment of the leadership of KQ, not the striking workers. The management lost it when they declined to negotiate with the union officials.

The writer is a human resource management consultant and a former CEO of Kenya Power.