4 December 2012

Kenya: Laid Off KQ Workers to Get Back Their Jobs

The Industrial Court yesterday ordered Kenya Airways to rehire over 400 employees it retrenched three months ago. In a ruling, Justice James Rika ordered the airline to reinstate the 447 retrenched employees to their roles at the KQ "without loss of seniority, continuity, benefit and priviledges".

The retrenched employees were directed by the judge to report back to work today. The judge said the violations by the National carrier involve more than mere economic loss to individual employees, "it is about corporate insensibility and disregard for certain constitutional ethos."

The workers had sued Kenya Airways through Aviation & Allied Workers Union. They claimed in a petition that they had been retrenched to cut the wage bill, but immediately replaced with new staff.

In October, KQ said it decided on retrenchment to cut down the ballooning wage bill to aid expansion.Justice Rika said the restructuring redundancy and retrenchment process carried out by the airline between August 2012 and September 2012 was substantively without justification and procedurally wrong amounting to unfair termination of employment.

The judge also said that Kenya Airways ignored the law while conducting the retrenchment exercise. "KQ is increasing its workload and needs more employees as stated by the CEO. It is expanding its fleet and destinations; it argues that it has adopted a new business model in which certain employees cannot fit. But it does not explain this business model in which selected employees cannot fit" the judge said.

The judge noted that KQ has recruited and plans to have more expatriates even as Kenyans are told they must leave. He said there is no justification that the roles have been collapsed or merged, expansion naturally demands an increase in the roles.

"The court would not have exercised its mind judiciously, if it concluded that simply because Kenya Airways brought evidence of record of financial loss to court, its decision to mass terminate the contracts of its employees is justifiable," he said.

Further, the judge wondered why KQ management ignored consultations even from its largest shareholder, the government of Kenya which intervened through the office of the Prime Minister.

He said KQ is merely using financial downturn to justify its replacement of unionised employees with outsourced and foreign workers.

Consequently, the judge directed the National carrier to pay the retrenched employees back their salaries and allowances from the month of September 2012.

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