Airport firm says workers treated fairly, refutes blogger’s allegations

“The stories about staff being mistreated caught everybody at Tradewinds by surprise. None of the staff knows who sent the document. We all saw it for the first time on social media.”

Photo published on social media showing people described as Tradewinds workers taking a nap at the JKIA air side.

Photo published on social media showing people described as Tradewinds workers taking a nap at the JKIA air side.

Hellen Wafula, a marketing executive at Tradewinds Aviation recalls the day in mid November when the company was caught up in a social media furore. A well-known Kenyan blogger had published photos and documents indicating poor treatment of workers.

“We honestly do not know why those allegations were published, but none of it is true,” Hellen assured our correspondent.

Tradewinds Aviation provides ground handling services at Kenya’s major airports. The allegations on social media claimed that the company pays very low wages, subjects workers to 14 hour shifts, neither provides meals nor resting areas, and that workers do not have protective equipment.

The document made a range of serious allegations against management before concluding with a call for the company’s workers to go on strike this Wednesday.

We got in touch with the company’s CEO Barry Tomlinson after which he arranged a visit to the company’s offices at JKIA. Tradewinds management and staff were accomodating and willing to discuss – without reservation – all of the allegations published on social media against the company. Our correspondent talked and mingled freely with staff.

A resting area for Tradewinds Aviation workers at JKIA. This contrasts sharply with images published in social media.

A resting area for Tradewinds Aviation workers at JKIA. This contrasts sharply with images published in social media.

Tradewinds Aviation has a 30 year history. It started out as Tradewinds Express, then become Tradewinds Aviation after merging with another company a decade ago. Tradewinds has 800 staff serving big names such as Kenya Airways, Emirates, Jambojet and Astral Aviation. The company is a GSA for Air Arabia cargo and also provides ground handling services to private and charter flights.

The highlight of the allegations against Tradewinds Aviation was a photo showing what were described as its workers catching a nap at the JKIA apron. The workers were huddled together, apparently to ward of the night chill, and were covered in transparent polythene sheets. The photo provoked public outrage and condemnation as it circulated on social media.

“There is absolutely no way that airport security would allow idlers at the air side,” says David Anamanda, an operations supervisor with Tradewinds Aviation. “The only staff allowed at the air side are those assigned to a particular aircraft and airline supervisors have their names.”

From that perspective, it’s really difficult to imagine how a large group of people could take a nap within the air side and go unnoticed. Besides, the penalties for misbehaving on the apron include revocation of the airport pass. Without an airport pass, the worker effectively becomes jobless.

Tradewinds’ offices, workshop, warehouse and training centre are located in various parts of the airport. That in itself brings up another of the allegations published in social media, specifically that Tradewinds does not provide workers with transport, forcing them to walk long distances across the airport grounds.

During his visit at JKIA, our correspondent saw several Tradewinds minivans and at least one bus for shuttling staff around the airport. “There is no reason for any of our workers to walk because we have adequate vehicles for staff transport,” said Hellen, the marketing executive.

Staff of Tradewinds Aviation in one of the company's minivans used to shuttle them around the airport.

Staff of Tradewinds Aviation in one of the company’s minivans used to shuttle them around the airport.

Speaking of airport security, anybody found without personal protective equipment (PPE) such as boots, reflector jackets and overalls could get into trouble with airport authorities. The allegations on social media stated that Tradewinds does not supply PPEs. The company says it’s warehouse has enough PPEs to last three years.

Besides, airlines cannot allow inappropriately dressed individuals to work on their aircraft as this would contravene international conventions as well as Kenyan occupational safety regulations.
“If anything, certain airlines insist on additional sets of PPEs for staff working on their aircraft,” explains Hellen. For instance, one major airline requires that cleaning crew put on white dustcoats.

It also turns out that Tradewinds does not charge workers a “cautionary fee” as alleged on social media. This claim was dismissed by the staff we talked to.

Despite a strike called for 3rd December 2014, company officials told our correspondent they had not received an official notification as of 29th November.

Is there any truth behind the allegations published on social media against Tradewinds Aviation? As with everything else in life, the truth lies somewhere in between. Our correspondent spent several hours talking with staff in various departments. While this might not have been enough time to really get to the truth of the matter, its worth saying that staff were willing to provide information to our correspondence without hindrance.

The claims on social media could be exagerrated, but it is possible that some staff have grievances that they wish to see resolved. There is ongoing dialogue between management and the workers’ unions as confirmed by Tradewinds CEO Barry Tomlinson.

“We have now concluded the collective bargaining agreement with the union to everyone’s satisfaction,” Barry told us on Monday.

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