Kenya's national carrier Kenya Airways was Tuesday stopped from replacing the more than 130 technical staff it accused of participating in an illegal strike until a case the workers have filed in court is heard and determined.
KQ, as the airline is popularly known, had last Wednesday sent home 131 employees serving in its technical department, and invited fresh applications to fill the positions.
The sacked employees – who served as either engineers or technicians – performed an array of duties, including the servicing and maintenance of aircraft.
Employment and Labour Relations Court judge Hellen Wasilwa issued the orders in response to an urgent application the staff had filed through lawyer Dismas Wambola.
“An order is hereby issued restraining Kenya Airways from replacing the technical staff,” said the judge.
The workers argue that through a letter dated November 29, Kenya Airways purported to summarily dismiss those who were on duty on November 28 for their alleged participation in an unprotected strike on that day. The employees claimed that they were not accorded an opportunity to be heard prior to the dismissals.
“Some of the workers were either on lawful leave or off duty on November 28, and have not been issued with dismissal letters, but they have similar grievances as those already dismissed, and are reasonably apprehensive that Kenya Airways will soon issue them with dismissal letters,” Mr Wambola said.
Kenya Airways advertised positions of the sacked workers in the local dailies on December 1, and invited interested applicants for interviews with a deadline for submission of applications set for December 15.
Mr Wambola said the workers did not go on unprotected strike on November 28, as alleged and hence their dismissal on those grounds were and remain wrongful, unfair, unlawful, and unconstitutional.
“The claimants have only been agitating for better remuneration, which is a right of every employee and is protected by the law and the constitution,” lawyer Wambola.
The embattled workers said the aviation industry is a small one with Kenya Airways as the single largest player in the country and region. It would therefore be almost impossible for all of them to be absorbed by the smaller players, the workers said.
The skills and experience they have acquired, they noted, cannot be utilised in any other industry except aviation, which industry unfortunately has no capacity to employ all of them.
In addition, they argued, since the industry is small and Kenya Airways has dismissed them in large numbers and announced through the media that it has dismissed them on account of gross misconduct, no employer in the small industry that provides a very sensitive service is ever going to employ any of them even if the allegations against them are finally disproved by the court.
“Kenya Airways has damaged the reputation of these technical workers almost permanently in the eyes of potential employers,” Mr Wambola said.
Justice Wasilwa certified the application as urgent and directed the lawyer to serve Kenya Airways with the court papers.
The case will be heard on December 18.