By Peter Ng’etich, Philip Muyanga, Leonard Mutinda and Jonathan Komen
More than 300 striking employees of the Kenya Airports Authority were on Monday sacked for defying orders to resume work.
A statement from KAA managing director Stephen Gichuki, e-mailed to newsrooms, said all workers who “are still engaged in the illegal strike had been deemed to have deserted duty and are summarily dismissed”.
“We take this opportunity to assure the general public that operations at all our airports have continued with no interruptions,” the statement said.
Mr Gichuki said the management had put into place contingency measures with the support of other government agencies and airport stakeholders.
However, the Central Organisation of Trade Unions dismissed the alleged sacking, saying, it had gone to court to block it.
The umbrella worker’s union, which had taken over negotiations with KAA, said it was shocked by the decision taken by the management to summarily dismiss the employees.
“The government doesn’t even have the courtesy to inform me that they are terminating the employment of these workers,” Cotu secretary-general Francis Atwoli said.
He accused the authority’s management and the Transport ministry of “applying delaying tactics” with the view of intimidating the workers.
Mr Gichuki, the Cotu boss claimed, had avoided meeting him for more than five hours when he went to the KAA offices on Monday in a bid to work out a return-to-work formula.
“This is a simple matter that would not have taken more than 30 minutes to resolve,” Mr Atwoli said.
He threatened to call for a nationwide sympathy strike to force the management back to the negotiating table if it will not have done so by on Wednesday.
Additionally, Mr Atwoli said he had already reported the matter to the International Transport Federation to organise affiliate unions in Europe to boycott Kenya Airways flights.
KAA management has insisted that the decision to fire the employees will be rescinded only if they go back to work. “If they go back to work, the talks will resume,” Jomo Kenyatta International Airport manager Edward Kobuthi said.
The authority on Monday gave what it called a breakdown of staff who had reported back to work.
At Jomo Kenyatta International Airport, 50 per cent had reported back, Moi International Airport (80 per cent), Kisumu International Airport (100 per cent), Eldoret International Airport (100 per cent), Wilson Airport (50 per cent), Malindi Airport (99 per cent), Wajir Airport (100 per cent), Lokichoggio Airport (100 per cent), Manda Airstrip (100 per cent) and Ukunda Airstrip (100 per cent).
KAA has dismissed the workers demand for a 25 per cent pay increment. Transport permanent secretary Cyrus Njiru on Saturday ordered the 1,300 unionisable staff to return to work or face the sack.
“Failure to report to work will be viewed as desertion of duty and such desertion is ground for termination of service under the Employment Act,” Mr Njiru said.
However, Aviation and Allied Workers Union secretary-general Nicholas Baraza urged the workers to ignore the directive and press on with their demands. The workers have been on strike for the last five days.
On Monday, they accused the government of intimidation and vowed to go on with the strike until their pay demand is met.
Despite the strike, however, there were no flight disruptions reported at the country’s major airports.
Operations at JKIA, Moi International Airport in Mombasa, Kisumu airport and Eldoret airport were not adversely affected as management staff and workers from other departments were posted to the stations of the strikers.
The union, which has sought the help of Cotu, accuses the Labour ministry of not being an impartial arbitrator.
On Saturday evening, union officials walked out of a meeting with the KAA management, accusing the arbitrator of partiality and high-handedness.
“The arbitrator told us that we have to go back to work immediately before negotiations claiming an agreement cannot be entered under duress,” said Mr Ernest Nadome, a Cotu board member who sat in the meeting.
KAA claims that the striking workers are fairly remunerated with the lowest paid taking home Sh63,000 a month in basic salary.
“The average entry level salary and emoluments for typical unionisable staff with a KCSE qualification of grade C without any additional academic and professional qualification is Sh63,000,” read a statement by Mr Gichuki on Sunday.
The union has, however, disputed that and insists that the lowest paid worker earns Sh28,000 per month.
The authority has offered a nine per cent pay increase, but the union is demanding 25 per cent.
In Eldoret, 26 KAA workers at Eldoret International Airport were on Monday meeting with the airport’s senior officials.
In Mombasa, some of the striking workers at Moi International Airport have resumed work. They reported on duty as per their shifts and could be seen going about their work at various points at the airport.