Strikes could cripple power, aviation sectors

October 31, 2011
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, NAIROBI, Kenya, Oct 31 – Kenya is facing a huge wave of industrial action this week that could leave the country plunged into darkness and air passengers stranded.

The Kenya Electrical Trades and Allied Workers’ Union (KETAWU) has threatened to go on strike on Wednesday should a meeting that is slated for Tuesday afternoon fail to yield a favourable outcome.

At the same time, the Aviation and Allied Workers Union (AAWU) workers are on a go-slow to demand better wages and working conditions.

A strike that could have plunged the country into darkness on Monday was averted after KETAWU met Kenya Power, COTU and the Federation of Kenya Employers in a late Sunday night meeting and agreed to hold off the strike until Tuesday.

“We agreed in writing to give the Kenya Power management more time to discuss and come up with a deal that is good for the workers,” KETAWU secretary general Ernest Nadome told Capital News.

He said they would be closely watching to see if their demands are met, failure to which they will switch off power across the country in protest.

With the implications of such a move bound to be catastrophic for the economy that is already grappling with high fuel and food prices and a weak shilling, the government is calling on the parties to embrace dialogue.

Labour Permanent Secretary Beatrice Kituyi said on Monday that a strike should be the last resort.

“The message to the Kenya Power and all employers and workers in this country is that social dialogue is the bedrock of good industrial relations so we just want to encourage that the employer’s representatives and worker’s representatives in this country give a lot of effort to dialogue to resolve labour related matters,” the PS said.

Although a strike is a constitutional right, she pointed out that KETAWU should adhere to a court decision that has declared the strike illegal.

“Avoid strikes and resort to courts because for future good industrial relations, the two parties need to talk. On issues of industrial relations in the country, the opportunity is given to employers and workers to address their issues,” she advised.

But even as uncertainty looms over whether a deal would be struck, another go-slow was in progress, this time by the Aviation and Allied Workers Union that is also demanding better wages and working conditions.

Although it admitted that it is aware of the go-slow, the Kenya Civil Aviation Authority said it has not yet received official communication from the union over the industrial action.

The Authority successfully managed to avert a strike last week after it convinced the union, which had announced its intention to take industrial action, to come to the negotiating table.

The Authority’s Corporate Communications Manager Mutia Mwandikwa disclosed on phone that a meeting scheduled for Friday last week failed to kick off as their Director General was held up in meetings prompting the go-slow.

His remarks were confirmed by an AAWU official based in Mombasa who added that they were irked by the management’s failure to meet their representatives hence their decision to disrupt most of the ground operations.

“Here in Mombasa, the strike is on and the go-slow started at 8 am. We delayed international flights by three hours such that the flights that were to take off at 9am, departed at 12pm,” said the official who spoke to Capital Business on condition of anonymity.

Two international charter airlines- Blue Panorama and Edelweiss Air- bound for Italy and Switzerland respectively were some of the carriers affected by the go-slow.

Workers want their salaries reviewed- which has not been done in 10 years. They are also demanding for housing allowances in addition to an upward adjustment of their medical covers.

“In Mombasa, we are getting a house allowance of Sh2,700, the salary has been Sh10,000 for the last 10 years and the management has out-rightly refused to hold talks with the union,” the official complained.

The go-slow, they vowed, would continue until an amicable solution is reached.

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