NAIROBI, Kenya, Aug 14 – Hundreds of Kenya Airways (KQ) workers on Thursday boycotted work and stage a sit-in at their union offices in Embakasi, where they vowed to continue with their strike until their demands for higher pay were met.
Those interviewed by Capital News said they were disappointed “because the management had resorted to using the police to intimidate and us to go to work.”
They added: “There are people who have been forced to work for extra hours yet they are not supposed to be working. It is unfair,” one of the striking workers said.
The workers who were in their uniforms said they were only willing to resume duty if the matter was resolved in line with their demands.
The workers could be seen celebrating whenever they received reports that a KQ flight at the Jomo Kenyatta International Airport (JKIA) had been cancelled.
They sang songs and some could be seen hugging each other in unison as they noted the success of their strike action.
“You see, the strike is causing an impact and that is what we wanted. KQ management must understand that times are changing and we need a pay increase. Not peanuts,” another worker who said he was a flight engineer said.
But the management of Kenya Airways put on a brave face in the midst of the strike, claiming that the flight disruptions were not as a result of the boycott but normal operational hitches.
Kenya Airways Managing Director Titus Naikuni said at a press briefing that “all is well at the airline.”
“The situation as of midnight was that there was some disruption at the airport. However some of our flights were able to take off albeit with some delay,” he said.
Mr Naikuni said some flights especially on the Kigali and Johannesburg routes had been cancelled but was optimistic the situation would normalise later in the day.
“The position with Johannesburg is that we have had to cancel one flight because of low passenger numbers, but we will combine them with those leaving with the later flight, so we don’t see any problem there,” Mr Naikuni said.
When Capital News visited the Kenya Airways offices at JKIA activities were slow and only a few staff were seen working.
Cabinet Minister Amason Kingi of the East Africa Community was among passengers who said they had been inconvenienced by strike.
The Minister told Capital News he was travelling to Mombasa to join President Mwai Kibaki but had to use an alternative airline.
“We are going for the engagement between parliamentarians and the private sector in South Coast. The President has already opened this session today (Friday) and I was rushing to join my colleagues. KQ apparently has its problems,” he said.
“I called KQ about twice and the second person told me that if they get crew then the flight will be on. If they don’t then the flight is not leaving. It is really disappointing,” he added.
Mr Kingi urged the KQ management to “urgently resolve the crisis” because “it is not only Kenyans who are going to suffer.”
“Kenya Airways is a Kenyan brand therefore, if this is how things are going to be, then as a country our image is also going to be put in jeopardy,” the Minister said.
Kenya Airways on Tuesday obtained a court order barring any of its employees from taking part in the planned strike but the strike notice expired at midnight on Thursday.
At least three people including Jimmy Masege the AAWU Secretary General were arrested over the outlawed strike.
Mr Naikuni maintained they would assess the situation case-by-case before determining what course of action to take.
“I understand that some staff had been arrested this morning (Friday) but I can’t promise that I will intervene until I know the facts because they could have been arrested for reasons that are out of my control,” he said.
Mr Naikuni refuted allegations he had influenced the arrests saying: “The law of the land is governed by the government and I am not the government.”
Sources said Mr Masege was arrested when he convened an illegal meeting at the airport to mobilise disgruntled staff members for the strike.
Mr Masege had on Thursday held a daylong meeting with the KQ staff, and vowed to push on with the strike despite the court injunction outlawing the strike.
During the meeting he accused the management of Kenya Airways for failing to listen to the pleas of employees to review their salaries which they felt was biased compared to theirs. The two groups are expected to meet at the industrial court on Monday August 17.