KQ flies into more turbulence as striking technicians sent home

Kenya Airways engineers singing in unity after they were dismissed from work on November 30, 2017. PHOTO | Kanyiri Wahito | NMG
Kenya Airways engineers singing in unity on November 30, 2017 after they were dismissed from work. They were at Seasons Hotel, Nyayo Estate. PHOTO | Kanyiri Wahito | NMG 

National carrier Kenya Airways this week flew into yet another patch of turbulence after a section of technicians and engineers downed tools demanding higher remuneration.

Although the airline, known as KQ by its international code, said its flights were “running on schedule with minimal disruptions”, the pay dispute — recurring within a year — is likely to land it in more trouble.

The airline has gone ahead and advertised positions left vacant by those sacked for participating in the strike.

On Friday, the company stated in a media advert that the deadline for application for engineers and technicians is December 15.

Prospective staff will carry out inspections and repairs on the firm’s aircraft and systems. “For detailed role profiles, please visit our website and apply online. Deadline for application is December 15.”

Engineers who spoke to the Sunday Nation said they had engaged lawyers to challenge the decision to sack them. The staff, through a seven-member committee, said they are no longer willing to negotiate with their employer over the pay dispute.

“It is a chilly reality that our employer has decided to separate with us because we have unsuccessfully tried to discuss our grievances. The courts will give the way forward,” said Mr Joseph Oyuga, a senior engineer.

“We undergo rigorous tests to prove we are aware of the procedures, regulations and systems. KQ should pay us our worth,” he said.

Kenya Airways chief executive officer Sebastian Mikosz said the boycott goes against the company’s efforts of financial restructuring. In a leaked memo dated November 29, Mr Mikosz said despite finalising the crucial stages of financial restructuring, the company’s overall financial situation was “fragile”.

“The recently reported improvement of the six-month results only indicates that the company has started going in the right direction. However, KQ is still in a situation where flying does not mean having more cash in our bank accounts, but consuming what we have,” he said.

“The company is not in a position to grant any concessions to any of the stakeholders, as this may only result in further destabilisation.”

Last December, the employees staged protests for better perks and improved working conditions amid shrinking profits for the airline. They called off the strike after former chief executive Mbuvi Gunze, who was temporarily retained in an advisory capacity, promised to review their pay and allowances beginning January this year.

In a statement, the CEO said the company’s board had approved a salary review for the technical department in February. This was implemented in April and salaries backdated to March.

But according to Mr Oyuga, only a few top engineers benefited from this arrangement. “The actual increment was never implemented as claimed. Whenever we inquire, we are told the company is in the red. When will this red turn green?” posed the engineer.

The CEO said a technical assistant who saw their monthly salary adjusted from Sh120,000 to Sh200,000 in the review is now demanding Sh340,000. But Mr Oyuga denied this and put the current earnings at Sh36,000.

Production and duty control engineers are also picketing for their monthly wages to be increased from the current Sh350,000 to Sh1.2 million a month, according to the CEO.

Engineers also want their Sh200,000 salary reviewed upwards to Sh720,000, while that of senior technicians should be increased from Sh90,000 to Sh600,000.

But according to Mr Oyuga, salaries of technicians should be revised to Sh500,000 from Sh62,000. He said senior engineers should earn Sh850,000 and not the current Sh254,000.

Additionally, staff who rank between technical assistants and senior engineers questioned the safety and security of aircraft and passengers now that they are not working, saying they are best placed to handle intricate details of plane operations apart from the pilots.

Around 56 certified engineers handling critical components of aircraft maintenance for KQ have been terminated, according to Mr Oyuga.

“We are supportive of the strategy required to reorganise the airline and enable it to operate as a viable, competitive enterprise. But the management is not willing to listen to us,” he said.

Mr Shem Oyango, a licensed engineer, demanded an audit of the work done on aircraft since they began the boycott on Tuesday. He said the current situation compromises safety of operations and invited Kenya Civil Aviation Authority to carry out the inspection.

But KQ, in a statement, said their safety team is carrying out checks on all its hangars as regulated by KCAA and the European Aviation Safety Agency.

“Engineers and technicians who did not participate in the illegal action are on duty and ensuring our operations continue. Kenya Airways flights continue to run on schedule with minimum disruption. Our operations have not been compromised,” Mr Mikosz said.