NAIROBI (Reuters) -Kenya Airways on Saturday warned its striking pilots they could be dismissed if they do not return to work immediately as industrial action led to the cancellation of dozens of flights and left thousands of passengers stranded.
The pilots at one of Africa's largest carriers downed tools from 6 a.m local time on Saturday, affecting business and leisure travellers at one of Africa's most important aviation hubs.
In an internal memo to pilots seen by Reuters, the carrier said the strike was illegal and asked pilots to return to duty immediately.
"This (strike) has resulted in major inconvenience to our guests and the consequent losses. This action is construed as participating and engaging in an illegal industrial action," the memo said.
"Pilots not reporting on duty...will have disobeyed lawful orders issued by management and calls for disciplinary action, which may result in dismissal."
Earlier on Saturday the Kenya Airline Pilots Association (KALPA) said the carrier's management had declined to listen to their proposals on how to resolve their grievances.
"No KQ (Kenya Airways) aircraft has departed Jomo Kenyatta International Airport flown by a KALPA member from 6 a.m. this morning," the union said in a statement. "The strike is fully in force."
Kenya Airways apologised to passengers in a statement and said it would do its best to minimise the inconvenience, which could include rebooking them onto alternative flights.
Before the action, the company had warned the strike could jeopardise its recovery from the pandemic, resulting in losses of at least 300 million shillings ($2.5 million) a day.
"The pilots are throwing away the baby with the bath water," Transport Minister Kipchumba Murkomen said on privately-owned television station NTV.
"It is about 10,000 passengers affected so far and if the situation continues like this, the impact on the other sectors of the economy, tourism, will be severe."
Passengers at the airport told Reuters early on Saturday that the previous night was chaotic as people sought to travel before the strike started. Hundreds of passengers who had arrived in transit were trapped inside the airport as their connection flights failed to take off, they said.
The pilots union say they are striking over a dispute on pensions contributions and settlement of deferred pay for its members.
(Reporting by Thomas Mukoya and Duncan Miriri; Writing by Akriti Sharma and Elias Biryabarema; Editing by William Mallard, Mark Potter and Christina Fincher)