Kenyans Grounded!

Strike Action Halts Activities At Kenya's International Airport

by Jerry Chiemeke

Kenyans Grounded!

A strike action is generally seen as one of the legitimate ways by which employees represented by a trade union can air their employment-related grievances. Strikes are usually embarked on with a view to agitating for better working conditions and improved remuneration, amongst other things. We see this happen often with the Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU) and the Nigerian Labour Congress (NLC). What happens, however, when these agitations cause important sectors of the economy (such as transport) to grind to a halt? What is the best step to take?

Flights were disrupted at Kenya's Jomo Kenyatta International Airport due to a strike by Kenya's aviation workers union, Kenya Airports Authority said on Wednesday March 6 . Hundreds of passengers were left stranded outside Kenya's main international airport in Nairobi, Kenya's capital city, as flights had to be rescheduled for several hours later than their official take off time.

Kenya Airways said it was experiencing "disruption in normal flight operations" and advised passengers whose flights were scheduled to take off after 11 a.m. local time (9 a.m. Nigerian time) "not to come to the airport until further communication is shared."

Reports emanating from the Kenya Television Network stated that 24 departing flights and two arriving flights were interrupted.

Ten people have been arrested in connection with the strike, and are still being held, according to Moss Ndiea, secretary general for the Kenya Aviation Workers Union (KAWU) -- the organisation calling for the strike.

"While we were gathered police were sent and they arrested me. The government and those with vested interest are using the police as an instrument to silence workers. They have resorted to hard tactics to arrest and mishandle innocent workers. We have the right to assembly," Ndiea said.

Ndiea said about 2,000 workers assembled to strike on Wednesday morning including cabin crew, ground operations, customer care, check in staff and security staff. Among the concerns raised by the striking workers are the refusal to review salaries in the past four years, as well as the takeover and privatisation of the airport.

"JKIA is a public entity owned by the government. We raised the dispute around that because you cannot surrender a national asset, which is managed by Kenya Airports Authority, to an airline which is in private hands without any due process," Ndiea said.

The union issued a seven-day strike notice that ended at midnight Tuesday causing operations to be grounded this morning. Kenya Airways had proposed a bid to take over the management of airports from Kenya Airports Authority in December, a plan that has been opposed by the aviation union.

Strike actions tend to slow down productivity, and they create a negative impact on the profit margins of the sector affected, but ordering arrests is not the most appropriate counter-measure to implement. Employers could resort to negotiations, lockouts or even union busting, but having the workers locked up or sprayed with tear-gas would only serve to aggravate the situation. No one can say for sure when the underlying issues would be resolved, but while the stand-off ensues, passengers will remain stranded, and business will definitely suffer.