Kenya’s national carrier Kenya Airways has withheld pilot’s March salaries after pilots made fresh demands for reduced pay cuts. Kenya Airways is currently choosing to pay pilots 70% of their regular pay to save money. However, the pilots and the pilot union demand the airline pay 95% of the standard pay.
Like many airlines, Kenya Airways is trying to lower cash spending as the effects of the pandemic drag on. Kenya Airways is choosing to reduce pilot pay by 30% in the short term to lower the amount it is spending. The airline has promised to make up the amount once it starts turning a profit again.
However, pilots and the Kenya Airline Pilots Association (KALPA) have said the 30% cut is too much. It is demanding the airline cuts salaries by just 5%. The union rejected the proposed temporary 70% cut, and so the airline has now withheld all payments meaning pilots have received no salary for March at all.
According to local media, Kenya Airways director of operations Paul Njoroge confirmed that based on the current financial situation, cuts would need to be made. This leaves the airline with only two options, cut salaries, or cut jobs.
Not the first time Kenya has had pilot problems
At the end of last year, the pilot’s union won a legal battle to prevent the airline from cutting 207 of the 414 pilots currently working for the airline. The carrier wanted to furlough some pilots as low demand meant they weren’t even reaching the legal number of required hours in the air.
According to the airline, cutting pilot pay is a major way of saving money during this difficult time. Employee’ salaries are a huge cash outgoing of airlines. The airline said that pilots accounted for just 10% of its workforce but took home around 45% of overall pay.
The airline predicted a complete recovery from the pandemic by the year 2024 and confirmed that until then, it would need to reduce how much it paid pilots or reduce the number of pilots. This week’s request from the unions suggests that currently, the airline is being blocked from doing either.
The airline’s financial situation isn’t helped by the fact it was struggling before the virus outbreak caused a mass downturn. Kenya Airways posted losses for the financial year 2018 and 2019.
Kenya Airways was also struggling to retain pilots as the Middle Eastern carriers poached many by offering high salaries. A slew of legal battles tried to end this, and the result was pilot pay gradually increasing across many airlines. Being a pilot is now one of the best-paid jobs in Kenya.
The airline previously sought to reduce outgoing salary payments by pay pilots per flight. This would mean pilots would still get paid but only as much as they worked. Labour courts in Kenya ruled that pilots on leave would need to be paid their full salary during the pandemic. The airline and its pilots are currently still locked in negotiations about what to do while the pandemic is ongoing.
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