Members of the National Assembly were Wednesday sharply divided by the strike by airport workers that saw the operations at the Jomo Kenyatta International Airport (JKIA) grounded as flights were cancelled.
In an adjournment motion by Mumias East MP Bernard Washiali, some of MPs called for the sacking of members of the Kenya Airport Workers Union (Kawu) for downing their tools. But others accused the management of the Kenya Airports Authority (KAA) and Kenya Airways (KQ) of subjecting the country to embarrassing moments.
Kawu called the strike to oppose the proposed takeover of JKIA by the financially crippled KQ over fears that they are likely to lose their jobs.
Although Kawu issued a 21-day strike notice in protest over the planned takeover, it appears that Cabinet secretaries James Macharia (Transport and Infrastructure) and Ukur Yattani (Labour) may have done little to save the country from the losses caused by the cancellation of flights.
Mr Washiali claimed that over Sh500 million was lost Wednesday alone due to the cancellation of flights and bookings of passengers in hotels as the strike persisted.
“This is a matter of urgent national importance. The strike by the aviation employees will have a serious economic impact on the country. We must stand to be counted that we can safeguard the interests of this country,” Mr Washiali said.
But Majority Leader Aden Duale (Garissa Township), his minority counterpart John Mbadi (Suba South) and Minority Whip Junet Mohamed (Suna East) called for the sacking of those involved in the strike for compromising the country’s national security despite jeers from a section of their colleagues.
“The problem Kenya is facing is these people called unions. What is happening today is a threat to the national security. Aeroplanes could not land and others could not take off. KAA must sack all the employees who participated in the strike,” Mr Duale said.
“The mushrooming of trade unions is a danger to this country especially those that touch on the country’s critical national installations like the airports among others,” said Mr Daule.
Mr Mbadi said that although the Constitution allows picketing and demonstrations, “you just don’t wake up and ask members to go on strike”.
“We may play politics of populism but this is not the time to shut our airports …it is irresponsible.” Mr Mbadi said adding, “Even a concept paper on the takeover of JKIA has not come from the cabinet.”
Mr Mohamed, in jest, claimed that trade unionists should not accuse the government as they had used industrial actions as political springboards.
“Strikes are normal, they are allowed in the Constitution. But we should not take it out of proportion and the management should look into issues of its employees,” said Mr Mohamed.
Emuhaya MP Omboko Milemba, a trade unionist, said the strike is as a result of mismanagement by KAA and KQ.
“It has to do with the issue of a comprehensive bargaining agreement which has not been signed by KAA since 2016,” he said.