Kenyan pilots’ strike disrupts air travel on three continents

NAIROBI (Reuters) – A strike by Kenya Airways pilots forced nearly two dozen flight cancellations on Saturday, affecting thousands of passengers, the national carrier said.

The airline, part-owned by the government and Air France-KLM, is one of Africa’s largest, connecting several countries to Europe and Asia, but it faces turbulent times, including including years of losses.

The Kenya Airline Pilots Association (KALPA) said no Kenya Airways flights operated by its members had taken off from Nairobi’s Jomo Kenyatta International Airport as of 6am on Saturday.

The pilots announced the strike in defiance of a court order against industrial action and gave no indication of its duration.

The airline’s managing director and CEO, Allan Kilavuka, said 23 flights had been canceled as of 11 a.m. due to “the illegal strike”.

The pilots ask for a provident fund, the payment of wages; airline warns of strict action

He urged protesting pilots, who make up 10% of the workforce, to return to work at 10.30am on Sunday. “If you fail to do so, immediate disciplinary action will be taken,” he warned.

The Kenya Aviation Workers Union (KAWU) later announced that ground staff would also strike from 2 p.m. in a separate and long-running dispute with the Kenya Airports Authority (KAA). ) about salary increases.

“Negotiate in good faith”

Kenya’s new transport minister, Kipchumba Murkomen, told reporters the strike was unjustified and “akin to economic sabotage”.

He said around 10,000 passengers were affected by the strike.

“I’m not saying their concerns are unfounded,” he said, appealing to the pilots’ “willingness to end” what he described as drastic action.

Frustrated passengers described huge queues at the airport, with many only learning that their flights had been canceled when they arrived to check in.

“We weren’t told anything,” American tourist Jill Lee told AFP as she waited in line after her flight to Tanzania’s financial capital, Dar es Salaam, was canceled at the last minute. .

The 65-year-old had been booked for a safari but said she had no idea where she would be spending the night after her connecting flight from Nairobi was cancelled.

“A lot of people here have nowhere to go. It’s pretty awful. On Saturday, KALPA blamed “the tough stance taken by” the airline’s management for upsetting the plans of thousands of travellers.

He urged them to “come to the table and negotiate in good faith, if they truly sympathize with the plight of Kenya Airways passengers”.

Injunction

The pilots are pushing for the reinstatement of contributions to a provident fund and the payment of all wages stopped during the Covid-19 pandemic.

On Monday, the airline won a court injunction ending the strike, but an official from KALPA, which has 400 members, told AFP the pilots were “acting within the provisions of the law” and that they had not yet received a court order. .

Posted in Dawn, November 6, 2022