Kenya Airways in Standoff with Aggrieved Pilots

 - October 23, 2019, 2:38 PM

The management and pilots of Kenya Airways have reached a standoff after negotiations on how to address a pilots’ shortage hit a snag. The pilots, who threatened to take industrial action, seek government intervention to resolve the dispute. The Kenya Airline Pilots Association (Kalpa) has suspended talks with management over a collective bargaining agreement after engaging in a heated debate over the airline’s attempt to hire 20 pilots on a contract basis to fly Boeing 737s.

Kenya’s employment roles now include 435 pilots against a requirement of 497, according to the airline’s director of operations Paul Njoroge.

In a letter to Kenya Airways outgoing CEO Sebastian Mikosz, Kalpa general-secretary Murithi Nyagah said that the engagements would come to a halt until management engages in “fair and honest” talks. “The Association hereby suspends participation in CBA negotiations due to gross violations of the CBA and the lack of goodwill thereof from management,” said Nyagah.

Kenya Airways pilots now seek a government-appointed mediator to arbitrate, insisting that failure to resolve the labor standoff will lead to a halt in operations. On Monday the pilots association sent a letter to Labor cabinet secretary Ukur Yatani accusing airline management of breaching sections of the current pilot contract. “We request you to urgently appoint a conciliator to assist the parties to resolve the dispute to avoid eminent industrial unrest,” the letter stated.

Kenya Airways called the halt in negotiations a suspension in talks and said that they would resume when the trade dispute mechanism takes its course. Company officials fear that a prolonged industrial action would push the debt-laden airline deeper into debt. Kenya Airways’ half-year loss to the end of June more than doubled compared with the same period a year earlier, to $83 million.  

Mikosz called the pilot’s threat of a strike “an emotional way” of attempting to gain leverage in the negotiations. “We have a legacy in costs and the only way we will control them is by flying more and keeping our market share,” he said. “We need to open more destinations and we cannot do this without the [contract] pilots.