Nairobi — The recent Industrial Court ruling that ordered Kenya Airways (KQ) to reinstate 447 unionisable employees has attracted spirited reaction, this time from the fraternity of employers.
The Kenya Private Sector Alliance (KEPSA) and the Federation of Kenya Employers (FKE) say the airline had a valid reason to declare the redundancies, arguing that the Industrial Court should have instead awarded damages to the affected employees instead of reinstatement.
"A decision to reinstate not just one but 447 employees overnight sends a very wrong message to potential investors and makes it impossible for an employer to run his enterprise," FKE Executive Director Jacqueline Mugo said during a press briefing on the issue.
KEPSA and FKE raised concern over what they deemed a growing trend of such decisions by the Industrial Court which gives the impression that investors cannot freely engage and disengage labour and manage their affairs.
"This is about the toxic industrial relations environment being created by the Judiciary. If the Judiciary get it wrong either by design or default then Kenya is really going to suffer dire consequences," quipped Polycarp Igathe, Chairman of the Kenya Association of Manufacturers.
Employers are generally concerned that the Judiciary is out of touch with commercial realities and that the Industrial Court decisions are stripping investors of their rights.
However, following a controversial rationalisation exercise that saw close to 600 employees go home in August, a firestorm of criticism sparked against KQ from sections of the public and even the Labour Ministry.
"That was a wakeup call to all employers in Kenya to tell them... before you retrench consult properly with the trade unions first and it is also not an issue of a bad ruling. This is one of the most experienced Industrial Courts," Francis Atwoli, Secretary General Central Organisation of Trade Unions (COTU) told Capital FM News in a phone interview.
Atwoli clarified that COTU is not against retrenchment, but the manner in which KQ carried out the exercise.
During investigations into the retrenchment process by the Parliamentary Committee on Labour and Social Welfare, the Labour Ministry termed the process "cruel and barbaric."
It said the "hurried" implementation process for instance, saw some employees released from the airline on voluntary early retirement when they had not opted for it.
KQ has defended its move to retrench the almost 600 staff, citing employment costs doubling over the last five years from Sh6.1 billion in 2007 to Sh13.6 billion this year.
The airline is now seeking an appeal on the court ruling after reinstating the 447 employees on Tuesday, but has since given them paid leave until further notice after which they will be redeployed.