Kenya Airways Intensifies its Conflict With the Pilots and Tries to End the CBA

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By Andrew Fungai

In its latest attempt to persuade the defiant pilots union to end the work boycott that has grounded the airline’s flights since Saturday, Kenya Airways has escalated the conflict with its striking pilots, filing contempt charges and requesting to withdraw recognition of a collective bargaining agreement (CBA).

On November 7, 2022, Allan Kilavuka, CEO of Kenya Airways, speaks to the media at Jomo Kenyatta International Airport.PHOTO/CREDIT

The national airline, which also started a recruiting drive for new pilots, took a strong line on Monday, refusing requests to continue negotiations with the union until the strike action was put to a stop.

Allan Kilavuka, the CEO of Kenya Airways, announced that the company has begun the process of hiring new captains and first officers to replace those who were on strike.

“Yes, we have started applications for qualified people to fill the posts of captains and first officers at Kenya Airways.” They are destroying the work, therefore there are no negotiations. How will we be able to pay them if they don’t show up for work? stated Mr. Kilavuka.

The Kenya Airline Pilots Association (Kalpa), on the other hand, has remained steadfast in its position and has accused the airline of refusing to make any compromises despite all efforts to reach an agreement.

“We urge the KQ management to come to the table and discuss with an open mind,” said Kalpa secretary-general Murithi Nyagah, “despite all their non-committal steps to resolve the stalemate.”

Four concerns have been made by the pilots, including the staff provident fund withdrawal.

At the height of the COVID-19 pandemic, KQ stopped making monthly pension contributions equal to 10% of the workers’ salaries. The annual contribution amount is roughly Sh1.3 billion, of which about Sh700 million goes to the pilots.

In a further turn of events, KQ wrote to the Ministry of Labour asking for the termination of the existing CBA and the recognition agreement, which is a formal written agreement between an employer and a union that represents the interests of the employees.

Given that the airline has the support of the Labour ministry and a court order, the decision will further expose workers if it is approved.

The airline is also relying on the government’s backing to terminate the CBA and curtail the union’s rights.

After a court ordered the pilots to appear in court this morning to defend themselves against being cited for contempt for refusing to go to work even after the airline gained orders stopping the industrial action, KQ received a first victory over the pilots yesterday.

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Senior Kalpa executives have been ordered to appear in court and provide justifications as to why they shouldn’t be penalized for downing tools by Justice Anne Ngibuini Mwaure.

The judge ruled that the union’s officials, including its secretary-general, Mr. Nyagah, must consistently show up in court.

The court has ordered the union’s chairman Timothy Njoroge, vice-chairman David Magwa, and assistant secretary-general Dzochera Warrakah to appear before it.

“The claimant’s application should be certified as urgent. The respondents are served with the same,” commanded Lady Justice Mwaure.

The strike had been temporarily halted by the Employment and Labour Relations court, but it now threatens to stall KQ’s recovery from the consequences of travel restrictions imposed during the Covid-19 outbreak.

The airline filed court orders to stop the strike, citing the risk of large fines for flight cancellations, a strain on cash flows, and revenue losses.

However, once the pilots carried out their threat, KQ came to court to seek a contempt citation against the union representatives for their participation in an illegal strike that cost the airline Sh300 million per day.

Additionally, Kalpa requires KQ to abide by any signed agreements on deals made between the two parties.

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