COVID-19 IMPACTS

Cost of regaining jobs will be steep

It has been widely argued that this pandemic is revealing the strengths and weaknesses of each country

In Summary

• Whether you are a former BMW-driving Executive Chef at a 5-star hotel or a near-destitute waiter at a small food kiosk, you now face a grim reality.

•  You will either not get your job back or else, take a huge pay cut in order to go back to work.

Kenya Airways plane at the Mombasa Airport
Kenya Airways plane at the Mombasa Airport
Image: FILE

There are many Kenyans who have never once boarded an airplane, but nonetheless feel a deep sense of satisfaction that “we” (ie Kenyans) have a “national carrier”.

Thus, a surprising number of us are invested in the survival of our beloved “KQ”, which at present is even deeper trouble than usual: Almost all its planes lie idle at JKIA owing to the coronavirus pandemic.

And it is not just Kenya Airways. Much the same psychology applies to another Kenyan icon, which has been hard hit by the Covid-19 pandemic: The Kenya Ports Authority.

 

It is obvious that certain KPA functions could be more efficiently carried out by independent contractors. But every time this is raised, there is an immediate declaration that “foreigners want to steal our port”.

But back to the coronavirus: It has been widely argued that this pandemic is revealing the strengths and weaknesses of each country that it descends on and proceeds to ravage mercilessly.

In an opinion column, Irish writer Fintan O’Toole declared that this was the first time, since its founding, the predominant attitude towards the US by other nations was one of pity.

And this was because Americans are being led by Donald Trump during this supremely difficult time, and the Covid-19 pandemic has exposed his infinite weaknesses as a political leader in a spectacular fashion.

In Kenya, it is the problem of our endemic corruption and general state incompetence that has been brutally exposed. And subsequently, the proposed expenditure of the sums being donated to fight Covid-19 has drawn the undivided attention of our social media warriors. And so keen is this attention that even if there was to be a genuine misjudgement on the part of our public health establishment – the kind of errors that are happening every day all over the world — there can be no forgiveness.

More than likely, the top leadership at Afya House, which began the fight against the pandemic with such immense goodwill and public confidence, will, in the end, find that they face overwhelming public fury and contempt.

So, we could say that the pandemic has both anthropological and archaeological dimensions. In Kenya, it has unveiled the uncomfortable realities — the inadequate and fragile infrastructure — of our leadership, our institutions and our communities, forcing us to come face to face with what they (and we) really are.

 

In this context, Kenya Airways — and above all its elite pilots and engineers — must be congratulated for so quickly coming to terms with the new reality.

For many years, Kenya Airways managements have complained in vain about the remarkably high salaries that were awarded to these pilots by an industrial court. They repeatedly stated that those salaries were unsustainable. But the pilot’s union did not yield an inch.

But then came the coronavirus pandemic. And what do we see now?

Late last month it was reported in The Standard that “KQ employees will have to do with pay cuts of between 25 per cent and 50 per cent, depending on their level…Staff will also be required to take unpaid days off work.”

This is not so different from what happened at around the same time in Germany, where there is a long tradition of top management and staff, resolving corporate problems through consensus building. As reported in the ‘tagesschau.de’ website:

 “Lufthansa pilots have offered the company a voluntary pay waiver until the summer of 2022…the offer includes a salary [pay cut] of up to 45 percent for the more than 5000 active pilots…” 

This should send a clear message to all those who have previously been working in other hard-hit sectors here in Kenya, in particular the hospitality sector, where there have been many supposedly “temporary layoffs”.

Whether you are a former BMW-driving Executive Chef at a 5-star hotel or a near-destitute waiter at a small food kiosk, you now face a grim reality.

You will either not get your job back or else, take a huge pay cut in order to go back to work.