KQ management, pilots in stand-off over vaccination and salaries

KALPA says front-line workers missing out despite flying to high-risk destinations.

In Summary

•There are also claims of discrimination on salaries which were cut last year when the pandemic struck.

•Management has however dismissed the claims saying it is giving priority to front-line workers on vaccination, while salaries have been adjusted according to pay scale.

Kenya Airways planes at JKIA.
Kenya Airways planes at JKIA.
Image: Douglas Okiddy

Kenya Airways management is at logger heads with its pilots over Covid-19 vaccination for crew and salary adjustment which workers term “discriminatory and unfair”, with management dismissing the claims.

In a letter dated August 6, seen by the Star, pilots have accused management of leaving out a huge number of pilots in the ongoing staff vaccination drive, despite them continuing to fly to high risk Covid-19 regions.

According to the Kenya Airline Pilots Association(KALPA) a big number of pilots have contracted the virus and recovered in the last 17 months, as they continue to serve flights to different destinations, including India where the delta variant has been rife in recent days.

Two pilots have succumbed to Covid Captain Daudi Kibati (62 years) who passed on in April last year, and Captain Salah Salim Jeizan, 57, who died at a London hospital last December.

Kibati fell ill on March 29 and passed-on a week after performing his last international assignment for Kenya Airways, an evacuation trip for Kenyan citizens who had been stranded in the US when the Covid-19 pandemic broke out.

Jeizan had flown to London (Heathrow Airport) on  November 7 from Jomo Kenyatta International Airport. He developed difficulties in breathing while in a London hotel.

As the pandemic continues to rage through ever-changing variants, its members have continued to operate to high risk areas, exposing themselves and their families to possible risk of contracting the virus,  KALPA General Secretary-Captain Murithi Nyagah notes.

“Despite this, it is regrettable to note that the pilot fraternity vaccination uptake remains fairly low, mainly because of duty restrictions you have enforced that have prevented many who desire to be vaccinated continue to miss out on opportunities to do so,” he says in a letter to KQ chief executive Allan Kilavuka.

Of the 400 pilots, only 50 per cent, or 200 have been vaccinated according to KALPA, with some still on their first doze.

Requests to have a planned roster for pilots vaccination has been ignored, it says, leaving many pilots un-vaccinated.

The association has also raised concerns over an upward revision of top management salaries despite the airline still remaining cash-strapped, with part of the employee's salaries still on huge cuts.

In April this year, pilots had asked KQ to remit 95 per cent of their pay, with only five per cent deferred, which is in line with other staff salaries.

The airline had opted to keep paying pilots 70 per cent of their monthly pay, promising to clear the balance when the carrier returns to growth.

The airline reported a 36.2 billion net loss for the fiscal year ended December 2020, as the pandemic further impacted to its losses which run over five years.

Kilavuka has however dismissed accusations by pilots as “untrue”.

According to Kilavuka, management has been engaging the Ministry of Health to obtain vaccines for employees where it has managed to secure 1,500 doses.

The airline's staff numbers 3,986 according to its latest financials.

“We have continued to prioritise the front-line staff, including pilots , cabin crew, ground services staff and flight engineers,” Kilavuka said, “We do not have our own vaccine, we are entirely on supplies from the MoH(Ministry of Health.”

He says there has also been a vaccine hesitancy across the company, and hence vaccine uptake by staff has been slow despite various pro-vaccination campaigns.

“My goal is and remains to get all KQ employees starting with the forntline staff fully vaccinated in the shortest possible time,” Kilavuka said.

On Salary, the CEO said pay-cuts have been staggered based on pay scale, with the lowest cadre of staff (including cabin crew) currently getting 95 per cent.

While there has been claims the CEO and top management received 100 per cent pay last year, Kilavuka said his salary in 2020 was on average 39 per cent, while the lowest cadre staff had an average payout of 74 per cent.

Pilots' average payout was 57 per cent.

A mid-level manager who sought anonymity, told the Star they were on 75 per cent salary, meaning 25 per cent is differed.

“Everyone else in the company is sacrificing to improve the company's situation and we must spend most of our energy trying to survive this crisis and eventually grow,” a letter sent by director operations, on behalf of management reads in part.

KQ last week held a crew dedicated vaccine drive for both the first and and second dose, but majority are reported to have missed due to flight schedules.