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Kenya Airways sends 115 engineers on forced leave

KQ engineers at a press briefing after their dismissal last month. PHOTO | Kanyiri Wahito | NMG
KQ engineers at a press briefing after their dismissal last month. PHOTO | Kanyiri Wahito | NMG 

National carrier Kenya Airways #ticker:KQ yesterday sent 115 of its engineers and technicians on compulsory leave, rebuffing the High Court’s Monday order requiring their immediate reinstatement after nearly a month in the cold.

The Labour court had on Monday ordered Kenya Airways to reinstate the employees, who were sacked last month, pending the hearing and determination of a case in which the workers have sued over unfair termination.

Yesterday, the reinstated workers reported to work but were denied entry through a letter sending them on compulsory leave.

Kenya Airways in a letter seen by the Business Daily, sent the affected engineers on compulsory leave for 30 days, effective December 18.

The letter, signed by the airline’s acting head of HR, Latiffa Cherono-Murage, told the workers that the time off would allow KQ, as the airline is commonly known, to “reorganise the shifts, work plans and the required resources to enable [them] report for duty”.

“This decision is without prejudice to the options available to the company with respect to the matter pending determination in court,” Ms Cherono-Murage said.

Dismas Wambola, the lawyer representing the workers in court, said some of the engineers and technicians had reported to work on Monday, after the court order was issued, only to be turned away.

In response to questions from the Business Daily, KQ confirmed that it had sent the workers on compulsory leave.

Safety

Employment and Labour Relations Division judge Hellen Wasilwa cited safety of the aircraft and passengers as reason for sending the engineers back to work.

The suspended staff, ranking between technical assistants and senior engineers, had previously questioned the safety and security of KQ aircraft in the wake of the ongoing industrial action.

KQ disputed the temporary order insisting that although it had fewer people in its technical department, its aircraft were adequately serviced by 427 engineers and technicians still in service. 

In addition, the airline faulted the court’s decision arguing that it had been made without input from a safety expert.

The Kenya Civil Aviation Authority (KCAA) had earlier this month asked KQ to assure it that the labour unrest would not affect aircraft maintenance plans.

KQ chairman Michael Joseph, had at the time said the engagement with KCAA constituted “normal routine discussions” and that the airline had “taken all the necessary steps to ensure that both safety and operations are kept at normal level”.

“We will not compromise on safety, ever,” said Mr Joseph.

Yesterday KQ said that 12 KCAA inspectors had conducted “random ramp and hangar checks on a daily basis” since December 6 and had not found fault with its safety standards.

“Over 150 documents and 24 procedures have been checked/audited by the inspectors and so far the regulator has not cited any safety issues with any of the Kenya Airways aircraft or the airline’s operations,” KQ said in a statement.

The decision to send the workers on leave came after Justice Wasilwa rejected KQ’s Monday afternoon application that had sought to stop implementation of the reinstatement order. The application will be heard today together with the original petition in which the workers are seeking to be reinstated.

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KQ, after failing to overturn Justice Wasilwa’s decision, sought the intervention of the Court of Appeal indicating it was “dissatisfied with the Labour court’s decision”.   

The airline sacked the engineers and technicians on grounds that they had participated in an illegal strike and immediately advertised their positions.

The workers’ lawyers have repeatedly disputed this version of events, insisting that his clients did not participate in an illegal strike.

The engineers want higher pay and better terms but KQ reckons that the workers’ demand is too steep and cannot be immediately met.

This is the latest in KQ’s long-drawn battle with its workers, the engineers having also gone on strike in December last year, asking for higher pay.

The airline’s workers in Nigeria briefly went on strike last week, disrupting operations for a day.

KQ is undergoing an aggressive restructuring after sinking deep into the red over the past few years.

Sebastian Mikosz, the chief executive brought in to lead the strategy, is expected to engage in shrewd cost management targeting the wage bill and aircraft maintenance costs. 

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