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Kenya Airways Pilot Strike looms as union talks collapse

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Talks between the Kenyan national airline KQ, and its pilots collapsed on Tuesday according to the carriers’ chief executive, with the planned strike by Kenya Airline Pilots Association (KALPA) now seemingly on course which may affect large parts of the embattled carrier’s operations.

The strike comes at a difficult time for loss-making Kenya Airways as it tries to restructure its business by taking large cost cuts, raising new revenue streams and converting debt to equity as part of a plan to rescue the carrier from collapse.

The airline boss Allan Kilavuka explaining the results of the collapsed talks to reporters, said that the union’s intention was never to negotiate, but rather to affirm that they would go forward with their strike action if their demands were not met.

“In fact, the pilots said that they had come to demand not to negotiate… They said clearly that the strike will happen if we do not meet their demands. There comes a time of reckoning and I think this is that time. At one point yes, we want to listen, but at the same time there’s a bigger mission to keep the airline alive.”

The airline insists that it was respecting its obligations in terms of the law and that reviving the Provident Fund, the bone of contention, would have to be at the expense of something else.

“We do have this Provident Fund which is actually very sensitive and we as employers have an obligation to contribute to it. The only reason why the Provident Fund was suspended is because we couldn’t afford it and we followed the laid-down process in suspending that fund. We cannot be at the moment afford to fund it. If we fund it, it will be at the expense of something else,” the airline boss said.

Kalpa, in its letter, addressed to the CEO, cited the withdrawal of the Provident Fund and alleged harassment of union officials as the trigger for the strike. The pilots’ other grievances are non-adherence to regulations, violation of the collective bargaining agreement (CBA), and leadership and governance issues. The last recent strike by the pilots was in November 2016.

“We’re still open to discussions, but at the same time, the airline is a local product that serves employees, so my responsibility is to ensure that the airline remains in existence for the service of all the 3,800 employees and not just a few of us,” Kilavuka said, adding that not all pilots supported the planned industrial action.

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