National carrier Kenya Airways (KQ) #ticker:KQ was Wednesday plunged in a fresh labour dispute with 140 of its technical workers who are demanding higher salaries the cash-strapped airline insists it cannot honour.
The workers, who downed their tools on Tuesday night, remained holed up in KQ’s hangar at JKIA for the better part of yesterday, prompting the Kenya Airports Authority (KAA) to disable their access passes in order to eject them from the site.
KQ said the employees, technicians and engineers, who fuel and service aircraft, want their salaries increased by up to three and a half times to match those of their counterparts in Middle East carriers.
“Some of our technical staff have downed their tools demanding more pay. None of our flights have so far been affected by this illegal industrial action and they won’t be,” Michael Joseph, KQ’s chairman, told the Business Daily in an interview.
KQ, which recently completed a balance sheet restructuring to escape a looming collapse, has however ruled out any increment, saying the employees’ wages were already adjusted in April.
“Early this year, we conducted a remuneration review for our technical staff. The KQ board approved a budget to cater for the necessary pay adjustments, which was done,” Mr Joseph said.
“The illegal strike at Kenya Airways hangers by about 140 engineers and technicians is in bad faith and unacceptable. The management will not be held at ransom by these engineers and technicians.”
The standoff left the protesting workers holed up in KQ’s hangar for over 20 hours, a situation that was deemed unsafe since the bay is directly linked to the JKIA runway.
Four aircraft stationed in the hangar were moved, allowing security officials to forcibly eject the striking workers who had not heeded calls to leave the building.
Deactivation of the employees’ access card also meant they went for hours without meals.
The same employees went on strike in December, demanding higher pay, better working conditions and management changes paralysing KQ’s operations.
KQ said it lost over 80 engineers and technicians in the year to February 2017 to Middle East carriers, prompting a salary review “despite the airline’s financial situation.”
On Wednesday, KQ revealed that technical assistants, whose monthly salaries were adjusted from Sh120,000 to Sh200,000, are now demanding Sh340,000.
Production engineers are allegedly picketing for a Sh1.2 million salary from the current Sh340,000 a month.
“These workers don’t have genuine grievances. They are participating in an illegal industrial action. Honestly, they are being greedy by asking for more money. We shall stand firm on this. We are not paying more than we already have.”
“Management has been consistently communicating, in good faith, the progress of addressing issues raised by the technical department. Key to this has been remuneration, and this was addressed earlier in the year,” Sebastian Mikosz, KQ’s chief executive, said in a statement.
A KQ engineer, who spoke to the Business Daily on condition of anonymity, rubbished the said increments as “a harmonisation exercise that benefited only a few employees.”
“Some engineers’ salaries improved but for many others, it remained the same. At the same time, the company took away responsibility allowance for overtime, meaning we are all worse off,” he said.
The employees are also protesting KQ’s decision to reduce the number of engineers who accompany aircraft to a dozen African destinations, including Juba, Abidjan and Lusaka where KQ does not have resident staff or engineers from partner airlines.
KQ’s technical workers, who number over 600, are particularly important to KQ’s operations because they are charged with aircraft maintenance and refuelling. Some have to sign-off on airplanes before a flight can take-off.