Kenyan airport employees are striking in protest of a planned merger between the Kenyan Airport Authority and Kenya Airways.
Rabat – Early Wednesday at Nairobi’s Jomo Kenyatta International Airport (JKIA), over 2,000 airport employees gathered to strike, halting all airport operations. At midnight, staff from all parts of the airport, including security officers, cabin crew, customer service, and grounds operation staff stopped working.
The employees are striking against a new plan in which Kenya Airways, a private airline, would take over the management of airports from the Kenya Airports Authority, a government body. Among their grievances, airport staff complain of poor working conditions, unfair hiring practices, and unacceptable salaries. The employees’ salaries have not been revised for four years.
“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,” said one of the organizers of the strike, Moss Ndiea.
The strike affected four of Kenya’s main airports, including those in Mombasa, Eldoret, and Kisumu. As a result of the strike, thousands of passengers were left stranded outside of airports. Over 60 flights failed to leave the Nairobi airport, east Africa’s largest. Flights from the Kenyan capital had to be rescheduled for later times.
Condemning the strike, the Kenyan government called it illegal and brought in members of the Kenyan air force to settle the situation. According to local media, riot police were also deployed and responded to the protesters with tear gas and batons.
Ten people have been arrested so far, including Kenya Aviation Workers Union Secretary-General Moss Ndiema. “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,” said Ndiea.
Kenyans took to Twitter to comment on the situation and provide updates.
Privatising a strategic facility like a port or airport is unacceptable….. Preparing to hand it over to a foreign power should be regarded as an act of treason. And for a foreign power to occupy any such facility should be deemed as an act of aggression. #JKIA
— Kakamega_pundit?? (@Kakamega_pundit) March 6, 2019
— THE JOURNALIST ?? (@KiplimoKigen) March 6, 2019
Situation at #JKIA GSU anti-riot disrupts ongoing strike by Kenya Aviation Authority Workers Union
Kenya Airways pic.twitter.com/9sjWNeMdQ4
— Eric Kobia (@RoyalRiqs) March 6, 2019
Early in the morning, Kenyan Airways advised passengers on flights which departed later than 11 a.m. not to come to the airport.
Further to the strike by KAWU members, we expect disruptions on flights. Customers on flights after 11 A.M are advised not to come to the airport until further communication is shared. We sincerely apologize for any inconvenience caused. pic.twitter.com/XqjxrTf2QK
— Kenya Airways (@KenyaAirways) March 6, 2019
However, later in the day, with the situation improving, flights to Amsterdam and Mumbai were able to take off. Domestic flights are also expected to resume shortly.
Last year, Morocco experienced a similar strike, which significantly impacted travel plans. Between June 20 and August 14, pilots of Royal Air Maroc protested their wages and working conditions. During the strike, over 200 flights were canceled.