Relief for Qantas passengers as tribunal ends strike action
Published 31/10/2011 | 05:00
HUNDREDS of Irish travellers stranded by an Australian airline dispute will be able to resume their journeys.
A labour tribunal yesterday ordered Qantas Airways and its unions to immediately terminate all industrial action and return to the negotiating table to resolve a dispute after the airline grounded its global fleet.
Fair Work Australia, an independent industrial umpire, was appointed by the government on Saturday after Qantas chief executive, Dubliner Alan Joyce, took the unprecedented step of grounding 108 aircraft, causing the cancellation of almost 500 flights and affecting nearly 70,000 passengers.
Mr Joyce said after the ruling that he wanted to get the planes back in the sky as soon as possible -- adding that the airline was likely to resume flights at 2pm Sydney time (3am Irish time) last night.
Qantas took the drastic action to bring to a head a prolonged, bitter battle with its unions over pay and working conditions and a strategy to set up two new airlines in Asia.
The tribunal said Qantas and the unions had 21 days to negotiate a settlement before binding arbitration might be imposed. Qantas had wanted industrial action terminated, while unions had sought a temporary suspension.
"We are pleased that, after 24 hours of turmoil, common sense will be restored to the aviation and tourism sectors of Australia," assistant treasurer Bill Shorten said.
Union representatives said they would work with Qantas to resume flights.
The grounding had angered stranded passengers and the government, overshadowing prime minister Julia Gillard's hosting of a summit of Commonwealth leaders in the western city of Perth.
Earlier, Ms Gillard told reporters she had convened the crisis hearing because of concerns about damage to the economy.
Almost 20 leaders had been booked to fly out with Qantas, but Ms Gillard said most had made alternate flight plans.
Mr Joyce estimated the "bold decision" to ground the fleet would cost the company A$20m (€15m) a day.
"This (labour court) decision provides certainty for Qantas passengers," Mr Joyce said after the ruling. "We will be getting our aircraft back up in the air as soon as we possibly can. I apologise to all Qantas passengers that have been impacted by the industrial action by unions over the past few months and in particular the past few days."
The panel deliberated for more than 12 hours as lawyers for the airline, union and government questioned executives and advisers and made submissions. .