Court summons Kenya pilots' union over strike

The Kenya Airline Pilots Association (KALPA) launched the strike at Nairobi's Jomo Kenyatta International Airport on Saturday, defying a court order issued last week against the industrial action.

Court summons Kenya pilots' union over strike
Picture: @KenyaAirways/Twitter

NAIROBI - A Nairobi court on Monday summoned officials from the Kenyan pilots' union behind an ongoing strike that has left thousands of Kenya Airways passengers stranded, as the airline cancelled most of its flights.

The Kenya Airline Pilots Association (KALPA) launched the strike at Nairobi's Jomo Kenyatta International Airport on Saturday, defying a court order issued last week against the industrial action.

The walkout has exacerbated the woes facing the troubled national carrier, which has been running losses for years, despite the government pumping in millions of dollars to keep it afloat.

"Due to the ongoing unlawful industrial action by Kenya Airline Pilots Association (KALPA), most of our flights have been cancelled," Kenya Airways said in a statement.

The airline known as KQ also upped the ante in the dispute by announcing it was ending its recognition of the union and withdrawing from their collective bargaining deal because of KALPA's "wilful and malicious acts".

"Due to this unlawful action by KALPA, the customers of KQ both locally and globally have suffered and continue to suffer immeasurable inconvenience and losses," Kenya Airways said in a statement.

This is "exposing the airline to irreparable damage in respect of its financial position and reputation thus resulting in the wider Kenyan economy taking massive hits", it said.

"This amounts to economic sabotage."

The Nairobi Employment and Labour Relations Court issued a summons to union officials to appear in court on Tuesday "for disobeying Court orders", Justice Anna Ngibuini Mwaure said in the document seen by AFP.

The airline, which is part owned by the government as well as Air France-KLM, is one of the biggest in Africa, connecting multiple countries to Europe and Asia.

On Sunday, Transport Minister Kipchumba Murkomen urged the pilots to return to work, threatening them with disciplinary action for "defying a court order".

"Considering the defiance of KALPA and their total disregard for the existing court order - which is at the heart of the rule of law - the Ministry of Labour now has to activate the procedures governing industrial relations," the newly-appointed minister said.

KALPA has not responded directly to the government warning but said Monday it had been "working tirelessly to resolve the issues at hand".

The pilots have accused the airline's management of making "no concessions" to end the stalemate and have given no indication of how long the strike will last.

THOUSANDS OF PASSENGERS DISRUPTED

On Sunday, the airline said 56 flights had been cancelled due to the strike, disrupting 12,000 passengers' plans.

The protesting pilots, who make up 10 percent of the workforce, are pressing for the reinstatement of contributions to a provident fund and payment of all salaries stopped during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Last week, the airline won a court injunction stopping the strike, but an official at KALPA, which has 400 members, told AFP at the time that the pilots "were acting within the provisions of the law" and were yet to be served with a court order.

The carrier has warned that the strike would jeopardise its recovery, estimating losses at $2.5 million per day.

The airline was founded in 1977 following the demise of East African Airways, and flies more than four million passengers to 42 destinations annually.

It has been operating in large part thanks to state bailouts following years of losses.