Knee-jerk reaction to Kenya aviation workers strike as airport crisis stings


Riot police disperse Kenya Airways workers. Photo/REUTERS
Riot police disperse Kenya Airways workers. Photo/REUTERS

In Summary

  • It took the Transport Cabinet Secretary James Macharia 9 hours to arrive at JKIA and threafter went for the jugular of the aviation workers branding them a bunch of criminals.
  • The shutdown has had dire cost implications on Kenya’s economy and disorienting several travelers, a situation that could have been diffused a whole week ago should government have acted proactively to forestall the strike.
  • Instead the State Agencies waited until the situation was out of hand, a now familiar script in dealing with industrial disputes in the country.

The government on Wednesday deployed its classical knee jerk reaction of threats, intimidation and arrests of Kenya Aviation Workers Union (KAWU) leaders to unlock the stalemate.

Could the situation have been diffused more than a week ago when the strike notice was issued to save the country from global embarrassment and the cost implications?

Dissatisfied with the proposed Kenya Airways takeover of Jomo Kenyatta International Airport, KAWU protested in a strike notice dated February 27, 2019.

The union with a workforce that dealt a devastating blow not only to JKIA but also to Mombasa, Eldoret and Kisumu airports only saw the Labour Ministry taking an entire week to respond to the situation when the damage was already severe.

“We are forming a conciliatory committee to report back to me in 30 days,”Labour CS Ukur Yatani said during a previous briefing.

As if burying their heads in the sand, Kenya Airports Authority (KAA) in a frantic effort dashed to court hours before the strike to forestall the strike with KAA also having had an entire week to salvage the situation.

The airport after nearly a decade of lobbying for category one status that was granted last October, could have been temporarily downgraded within matters of hours following the paralysis.

Stung by the full blown crisis the State resorted to violence, threats, arrests and intimidation to unlock the stalemate

“They should respect the court order or they will be cited for contempt of court,” retorted Labour CS.

It took the Transport Cabinet Secretary James Macharia 9 hours to arrive at JKIA and thereafter went for the jugular of the aviation workers branding them a bunch of criminals.

The shutdown has had dire cost implications on Kenya’s economy and disorienting several travellers, a situation that could have been diffused a whole week ago should government have acted proactively to forestall the strike.

Instead the State Agencies waited until the situation was out of hand, a now familiar script in dealing with industrial disputes in the country.

This despite JKIA being the busiest airport in East Africa and the fourth busiest in Africa.

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