Travellers using the Jomo Kenyatta International Airport (JKIA) in Nairobi got a big relief after the aviation workers union agreed to suspend a strike that was scheduled to start today.
The strike, which had been called to protest against plans by Kenya Airways (KQ) to take over management of JKIA, was suspended last evening after Transport and Infrastructure Cabinet Secretary James Macharia assured the workers that they will not lose their jobs after the proposed merger.
Cargo operators, airport ground staff and support service workers who are members of the Kenya Aviation Workers Union (Kawu) were set to take part in the strike.
Flight attendants and workers in duty-free shops were also expected to boycott work.
“I want to thank the CS for Transport for giving us an assurance that our jobs will be secure in the proposed takeover of JKIA by KQ. Therefore, we have agreed to suspend the strike to give all parties an opportunity to negotiate,” said Kawu secretary-general Moss Ndiema Tuesday.
The union reached the agreement after a closed-door meeting held Tuesday at the Ministry of Transport headquarters.
Mr Ndiema said the union would resist any change in the workers’ terms of employment.
Mr Macharia told the union representatives to wait for conclusion of negotiations to get a clearer picture of the proposed merger.
He said there will be no transfer of KAA assets to the national carrier, adding that the total number of workers at JKIA could increase from 950 to 3,000 after the takeover.
Busiest in East Africa
JKIA is the busiest airport in East Africa and the sixth busiest in Africa.
Besides Kenya Airways, it handles airlines such RwandAir, South African Airways, British Airways, Ethiopian Airlines, Emirates, Turkish Airlines among others.
An estimated 5.89 million international travellers passed through JKIA in 11 months to end of November last year, compared to 5.79 million passengers in the full year 2017.
The go-slow called by Kawu workers could have forced KQ to book travellers in hotels or reimburse money already paid for tickets.
Under the proposed changes at JKIA, Kenya Airways is set to merge with KAA as part of a grand plan to deepen the airline’s recovery and cement Nairobi’s status as a regional transport hub.
According to a policy paper seen by the Business Daily which got the Cabinet’s approval in June, the aim is to reposition KQ in a similar fashion as its main rivals, including Ethiopian Airlines, which have relied on government backing to expand their reach.
The move, dubbed 'Project Simba', also appears to be a reaction to the financial difficulties the carrier has continued to experience even after last year’s completion of a major reengineering drive, causing concern that it may not be able to withstand competition in the near future.