More than 500 flights had been grounded affecting about 68,000 passengers across 22 countries [AFP]

An Australian labour tribunal has ended the union strikes and grounding of Qantas Airways fleet after it stranded tens of thousands of passengers.

Fair Work Australia, an independent industrial umpire, on Monday ordered both the management and unions to immediately resume flights and return to the negotiating table in an effort to resolve a prolonged and bitter industrial dispute.

Qantas and the three unions now have 21 days to reach an agreement or face binding arbitration, the tribunal said.

"We are pleased that after 24 hours of turmoil that common sense will be restored to the aviation and tourism sectors of Australia," Bill Shorten, Australia's Assistant Treasurer, said in televised remarks.

Union representatives said they would work with Qantas to resume flights as soon as possible.

Qantas management had grounded its entire global fleet, in a move that had affected almost 500 flights and more than 68,000 passengers across 22 countries by Sunday afternoon.

Earlier, Qantas Chief Executive Alan Joyce said the airline would only resume flying if the three-person tribunal ordered all industrial action terminated, rather than suspended, to ensure the company and passengers had sufficient certainty.

Unions had been pushing for industrial action to be suspended for between 90 and 120 days.

'An outcome Joyce wanted'

Al Jazeera’s Andrew Thomas, reporting from Perth, said that "this termination of industrial action by the tribunal ends not only the strike by unions but also the lockout resorted to by management".

"This means Qantas will be flying again by late on Monday Australian time," he said.

 

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"This is exactly the outcome that Chief Executive Joyce wanted. He forced the issue by grounding the airlines and pushed the government into making a decision to refer the matter to the court of final arbitration.

"And because of what he did he’s got the airline back up in the sky actually quite quickly - it had stopped flying on Saturday and will be back on Monday."

Our correspondent said, "Passengers all around Australia, who had to make alternative travel arrangements, can now move back onto Qantas."

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, Gillard told reporters she had convened the crisis hearing because of concerns about damage to the economy and had called on the airline and union to quickly end the industrial action.

"I believe Australians want to see this sorted out," Gillard said.

"Businesses want to see it sorted out. Passengers want to see it sorted out. I want to see this dispute sorted out. That's why we have approached Fair Work Australia."

Almost 20 leaders attending the summit had been booked to fly out with Qantas, but Gillard said most had made alternate flight plans.

'High-stakes game'

Qantas, the world's 10th-largest airline, had urged Fair Work Australia to terminate all industrial action. But unions wanted the action suspended so that the strikes could be resumed in case the negotiations failed.

Three months of strikes have been costing Qantas $16m per week, with the total financial impact so far hitting $72m.

Earlier, speaking at Sydney Airport, Richard Woodward, the president of the Australian and International Pilots Association, said the move was clearly pre-meditated to take place the day after Joyce’s $2m pay rise was approved.

"Alan Joyce obviously thinks Qantas is his personal plaything to use in his high-stakes game against pilots and other workers," Woodward said.

"He is happy to trash the travel plans of thousands and thousands of passengers completely unnecessarily. And let's be honest here, this was obviously not a snap decision. He would have planned this destruction months ago."

The airline has been hit by a series of strikes over pay, working conditions and a plan to shift Qantas' operational focus to Asia.

Source: Al Jazeera and agencies