More than 500 flights were grounded, affecting about 70,000 passengers across 22 countries [AFP]

Australia's prime minister has hit out at Qantas, the country's national airline, over its decision to ground all flights at the weekend in a bid to end a rumbling industrial dispute with workers over restructuring plans.

Qantas' flights had mostly returned to normal by Tuesday after an industrial tribunal ordered the airline and unions to halt the bitter dispute that affected almost 500 flights and more than 68,000 passengers.

In an interview with Australia's ABC on Tuesday, Gillard said the action by Qantas bosses had been "extreme and irresponsible" and said she supported the rights of workers to take industrial action.

"Qantas on Friday was talking about continuing to negotiate this dispute. On Saturday it made the decision to strand tens of thousands of passengers around Australia and around the world, it needs to take some responsibility publicly for that decision." said Gillard.

Three hours notice

Qantas had only given the government three hours' notice of its decision to lock out its own workers, Gillard said.

The grounding angered stranded passengers and the government, overshadowing Gillard's hosting of a summit of Commonwealth leaders in the western city of Perth.

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

Many Qantas workers are unhappy with restructuring plans that will shift a large part of its operations to Asia.

Qantas executives said the lockout was needed to end the dispute, which had been costing it millions of dollars every week.

Source: Agencies