Kenya airport strike strands thousands of passengers

Passengers are blocked from entering Kenya Airways's departure terminal due to a strike by the airline workers at the Jomo Kenyatta International Airport in Nairobi on March 6, 2019Image copyright

Image caption

Passengers were stopped from entering Nairobi’s international airport terminals

Thousands of passengers have been stranded at Kenya’s main international airport after a strike caused major disruption to flights.

The military has been deployed to try to break the industrial action at Nairobi’s Jomo Kenyatta airport.

The situation has now eased slightly and a few flights have taken off, but there is a long backlog of passengers.

Workers are unhappy about plans to merge the airport authority and the national airline.

Airports in Mombasa, Eldoret and Kisumu have also been disrupted.

The government has condemned the strike as illegal and Kenyan air force personnel have been brought in to help screen passengers.

Image caption

Riot police used batons and tear gas to disperse striking workers

Earlier there were clashes at Jomo Kenyatta airport between demonstrating workers and paramilitary riot police. Officers used batons and tear gas to disperse strikers, some of whom were injured.

A number of stranded passengers needed medical treatment after inhaling tear gas, according to a reporter for the AFP news agency.

A key figure in organising the strike, Kenya Aviation Workers Union secretary-general Moss Ndiema, was arrested. A report on the privately owned Daily Nation newspaper’s website said he had been “roughed up”.

Kenya Airways says the situation is improving, with long-haul flights to Amsterdam and Mumbai having departed, others boarding and domestic flights “set to resume shortly”.

Some flights to regional destinations have been cancelled.

How are people reacting?

Frustrated passengers have complained of a lack of information and support from the authorities, with travellers waiting for hours with no update on their flights.

Image Copyright @Earlie_tall

Twitter post by @Earlie_tall: What message is @KenyaAirports passing? Do you recognise this is an international airport and you are inconveniencing travellers including infants, young children, expecting mothers  old people. Could you not find other ways or raising your griverncies? #JKIAImage Copyright @Earlie_tall

Others voiced anger at the use of force to break up the protest.

Image Copyright @bradsfashionke

Twitter post by @bradsfashionke: Police should stop chasing the workers within the airport. We are embarrassing ourselves as a nation JKIA is an international airport. @KenyaAirways @citizentvkenya  #JKIA Image Copyright @bradsfashionke

The BBC’s Lynne Wachira saw one man bleeding from the head, after being injured in clashes between workers and riot police.

What is the strike about?

It began at midnight local time (21:00 GMT on Tuesday). Fire engines were withdrawn from the runway, and security, check-in and baggage-handling staff also stopped working.

The unions are opposed to a plan that would see the loss-making Kenya Airways taking over the management of airports from the profit-making Kenya Airports Authority (KAA).

The aviation workers complain of unfair staff hiring, poor remuneration and that the proposed take-over would put their jobs at risk.

Transport Minister James Macharia told journalists that jobs would not be lost in the merger, and branded the workers who had caused the disruption “criminals”.

“We have identified those who were involved and action will follow shortly,” he said.

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