State House steps into KQ row with staff over US flights


Kenya Airways plane. FILE PHOTO | NMG

State House yesterday waded into the controversy surrounding the inaugural Kenya Airways #ticker:KQ direct flight to the US with a demand the airline’s management swiftly resolves any outstanding issues with its employees to ensure success of the October 28 maiden flight.

State House spokesperson Kanze Dena said the Office of the President had raised concern over the looming standoff between workers and the Kenya Airways management and sought an assurance that the row would be resolved ahead of the flight.

“Kenya Airways has assured us that the flight will take off,” Ms Dena said.

She spoke as the Ministry of Transport moved to arrest the escalating industrial tensions between the union and the airline’s management ahead of the flight.

Transport secretary James Macharia said at a press conference that “reason would prevail” in reference to the standoff, adding that his ministry had engaged the airline’s board of directors to speedily resolve the matter.

“As you know discussions have been ongoing with regards to labour relations between Kenya Airways employees, management, the board and of course ourselves, as the line ministry,” he said.

“We would like the management to hear all their (workers) grievances. No employee would like to blackmail his or her employer, especially when the prospects are so good-looking because if KQ does not succeed it means the competitors succeed,” he said, adding that (employees) understand the competitive landscape.

Union officials on Tuesday, however, maintained that the Kenya Airways management would have to concede to their demands for special perks and working terms for staff in the long-haul flight.

“The employees have agreed with the union that it is now their official position that the Kenya Airways management must resolve the issues we are raising,” said Kenya Aviation Workers Union (Kawu) secretary-general Moses Ndiema after a meeting with union members.

“The ball is in KQ’s court now,” said Mr Ndiema.

“It will be an illegality to compel the cabin crew to fly without addressing the issues.”

The union officials, however, appeared to soften their earlier hardline stance on the pending implementation of the CBA, saying they were ready to consider a position from the management “in two weeks’ time.”

Kawu is asking for special terms for cabin crew on the long-haul flight, insisting allocation of additional staff would allow each cabin crew member “adequate” time to rest in-flight.

Besides, the unionists want the cabin crew to be paid Sh20,000 allowance per hour exceeded up to a maximum of 21 hours duty period, “in line with international aviation standards”.

KQ has offered to pay the crew Sh5,000 per hour.

Kenya Airways chief executive Sebastian Mikosz had earlier asked the union to abandon the boycott plans, arguing that the airline would pick up the CBA negotiations with the union after the launch of the direct flight.

And in statement on Monday, the airline asked the employees not to heed any boycott calls with a warning that “employees proceeding with a boycott are not only damaging Kenya Airways but also supporting competitors.”

“…Kenya Airways management remains committed and open to resume negotiations with regards to the new collective bargaining agreement (CBA) after successful launch of the NYC route.”

The government’s stake in KQ stands at 48.9 per cent, followed by 10 local banks (38.1 per cent). The rest of the KQ shares are held by local and foreign institutional and individual investors.

President Uhuru Kenyatta has said the upcoming direct flights represent a significant achievement that could transform trade and cultural relations between the US and Kenya.

Nairobi’s Jomo Kenyatta International Airport (JKIA) was in February last year granted Category One status, paving the way for US Federal Aviation Administration officials to approve non-stop direct flights between Nairobi and New York.