Hundreds of travellers were stranded at Nairobi’s international airport as a strike prompted by a labour dispute grounded flights and riot police were deployed to disperse striking workers.
With flights grounded since midnight on Tuesday, passengers were advised on Wednesday morning not to come to the Jomo Kenyatta International Airport – East Africa’s busiest according to the Kenya Airports Authority (KAA) – until further notice.
“Kenya Airways regrettably wishes to inform its customers and the general public that due to the illegal strike by Kenya Aviation Workers Union (KUWA), the airline will be experiencing disruptions in normal flight operations,” a company statement said.
Inside the terminals, strikers faced off with police who fired tear gas as they moved in to arrest union officials they accused of inciting workers.
Chaos at Nairobi airport! A strike by security staff has left hundreds of passengers stranded outside and the numbers are growing every minute. Not clear any of us will make our flights.☹️ pic.twitter.com/p5VD8h2YJW
— Chris Trott (@ChrisTrott) March 6, 2019
Passengers waiting for flights, some for hours, were asked to leave the airport but they gathered in the parking and waiting areas outside the building.
“I have been here since 3:00am. There is no flight, there is no information, we have just been told to wait for communication,” stranded passenger Mercy Mwai told AFP news agency.
Another passenger, Christine, asked: “why are police using unnecessary force with teargas at an airport.”
Some passengers received medical treatment on site for tear gas inhalation, according to an AFP journalist at the airport.
The workers, who had not announced their labour action beforehand, are angry about the planned takeover by Kenya Airways of the airport operated by the state-run KAA.
Transport Minister James Macharia said workers need not worry.
“What they were fearing is that the proposed merger between KQ [the airlines] and KAA will result in job losses but we gave assurances that that will not happen,” he told journalists at the airport, and promised that flights will resume shortly.
“So this [strike] is completely uncalled for because the deal has not happened.”