TURBULANCE

Questions abound KQ decisions as pilots face the sack

High Court has stopped the planned lay-off

In Summary

•The board is split on the decision to send home 182 pilots and more than 400 cabin crew.

•While KQ is downsizing, Ugandan  Airlines is recruiting. Competitior-Ethiopian Airlines is also expanding its operations.

Kenya Airways chairman Michael Joseph./
Kenya Airways chairman Michael Joseph./
Image: FILE

Kenya Airways management is facing a decision-making crisis as a split in its board and top management plays out in the wake of the sacking of pilots and nationalization of the national carrier.

The board is split on the decision to send home 182 pilots and more than 400 cabin crew, the Star has established,  a move that has been stopped by the High Court.

Justice Hellen Wasilwa has suspended plans by the airline to lay off some of its staff and send others on unpaid leave ahead of resumption of domestic flights this week, a move that could force the broke airline to dig deeper into its pockets to implement its recovery plan.

Plan to implement a 30 per cent pay cut for staffers who will be on duty when the national carrier resumes operations have also been stopped by court.

“We need to rethink decisions made at the airline. I agree there is a problem but the question is, how do we retain KQ as a national carrier,” a member who spoke to the Star on anonymity said.

Insiders have termed the decision to down-size as a four-man play by management and a section of the board, which has left out the rest of the board and management at crossroads.

This, even as KQ management remains at loggerhead with the Kenya Airline Pilots Association (KALPA), which has accused the top management of using Covid-19 as a “scapegoat”, despite losses at the airline dating more than four years ago.

KALPA General Secretary and CEO Captain Murithi Nyagah last week accused the airline’s management of 'playing dirty' in termination of contracts, where 22 pilots have already been sent home.

160 more are targeted in the process which Nyagah said Kenya Airways is acting in breach of an existing Memorandum of Agreement that was enforced by both parties on January 24, 2020, which also guides operations during the Covid-19 period.

Both the Kenya Aviation Workers Union (KAWU) and the Central Organisation of Trade Union(COTU) have hit at KQ of plans to downsize, even as regional competitors such as Uganda and Ethiopia Airlines are expanding.

Uganda Airlines has advertised positions of Captains for Airbus A330 neo,CRJ 900, First Officers and cargo management.

Ethiopia Airlines is currently flying to more than 40 destinations, mainly cargo, despite Covid-19 affecting global travel.

Air Rwanda on the other side has not laid off but sent home part of its staff on unpaid leave.

“The board(KQ) is composed of people who have outlived their usefulness. They should be at home and allow people who understand modern dynamics to take over,” COTU Secretary general Francis Atwoli said last week.

In a letter to KQ last week, KALPA said the move to fire pilots is against government position to protect jobs during the Covid-19 period.

It also comes at a time when the nationalization debate is taking place, with National Assembly Transport Committee, chaired by Pokot South MP David Pkosing, promising that there would be no job losses.

“KALPA will not sit down and watch as you unilaterally belittle and breach an existing recognition agreement when it comes to the terms and conditions of service of pilots in KQ,” Nyagah said in a letter dated July 6.

He went on: "Your attempt to circumvent KALPA in the important matters raised herein will not be tolerated going forward. ” he added in the letter to 

The stern letter addressed to KQ chief executive Allan Kilavuka was copied to Labour CS Simon Chelugui, COTU Secretary General Francis Atwoli and the Federation of Kenya Employers Executive Director Jacqueline Mugo.

KALPA has accused KQ management of diverting from the “real issues” affecting the airline and using Covid-19 as an excuse to send workers home.

However, in a reply to pilots in a letter dated July 10, seen by the Star, Kilavuka said the planned 'rightsizing exercise' is a direct response to the effect of the Covid-19 Pandemic on the airline.

“It is separate from the Aviation Sector Reforms, including nationalisation process, which was conceived before the Covid-19 pandemic to support the long-term growth of the aviation sector,” Kilavuka says in the letter.