Flights taking off and landing at the Jomo Kenyatta International Airport (JKIA) in Nairobi are facing disruptions beginning tomorrow after the airports operator failed to end a strike called by the aviation workers union.
The strike, which was called to protest against plans by Kenya Airways (KQ) to take over management of JKIA, is set to involve airport ground staff, cargo operators, flight attendants and other support service workers who are members of the Kenya Aviation Workers Union (Kawu).
Workers in duty-free shops and flight attendants are also expected to boycott work.
The union which has a membership of about 10,000, a quarter of whom are KQ employees excluding pilots, says the strike will start at midnight.
A heated meeting held on Friday between Kawu and the KAA management failed to resolve the standoff.
Kawu representatives told KAA managing director Jonny Andersen that it was too late to call off the strike, accusing the airports operator of closing the window for negotiations.
They also accused Mr Andersen of hiding the Privately Initiated Investment Proposal (PIIP) that provides guidelines on how KQ will take over operations at JKIA.
“We sent you a letter requesting to know if indeed KQ wanted to take over operations at JKIA but unfortunately, you did not respond,” said Kawu secretary-general Moss Ndiema at the meeting.
JKIA is the busiest airport in East Africa and the sixth busiest in Africa.
Besides Kenya Airways, it handles airlines such as British Airways, Ethiopian Airlines, RwandAir, Emirates, South African Airways, 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 by Kawu workers will therefore mean that hundreds of passengers will have to book other flights or reschedule their travel plans.
Mr Andersen urged Kawu to postpone the industrial action arguing that a transactional advisor for the proposed takeover, MMC Africa, was still evaluating the deal that is expected to see KQ form a subsidiary to manage operations at JKIA for a concession period of 30 years.
“The transaction advisor is still helping us go through it after which we (KAA) will have an opinion as to whether KQ can manage operations at JKIA or not,” he said, adding that KAA would provide Kawu with a summarised copy of the PPIP once he got approvals from the Ministry of Transport.
KQ had not responded to the queries on how it intends to handle the looming strike by the time of going to press.
Under the proposed changes at JKIA, Kenya Airways is set to merge with KAA as part of a plan to boost the national carrier’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 withstand competition in the near future.