|More than 500 flights have been grounded, affecting about 68,000 passengers across 22 countries [AFP]|
Australia’s Qantas is preparing to return to the air for the first time in two days after an industrial tribunal ordered it and unions to halt a bitter row that grounded all its planes.
The air safety regulator has cleared the airline to resume flights at 3.30pm local time (04:00 GMT) on Monday.
But the 90-year-old flag carrier, which stunned the nation and infuriated the government when it announced its shock action on Saturday, will not be able to return to normal service until Tuesday at the earliest, Qantas chief executive Alan Joyce said.
The resumption of flights was ordered by industrial regulator Fair Work Australia, which after a marathon hearing ordered a complete end to the polarising dispute between Qantas and unions.
Justice Geoffrey Giudice, part of the industrial umpire panel, said the decision allowed for further negotiations between Qantas and unions over the next 21 days to try and hammer out their differences.
“I don’t think any side should be declaring victory,” Alan Joyce said. “The unions can’t take any more action. Qantas can’t take any more action – that’s gone – so our aircraft go back in the air.”
Joyce defended the unprecedented decision to ground aircraft and lock out the workforce – a decision now overturned by the umpire.
“Between them, these three unions have attempted to change the parameters of industrial negotiations from pay to the strategic direction of a company,” Joyce said in a statement.
“The dispute was unbalanced, all the pain was on one side … we had to do something.”
‘Common sense restored’
Bill Shorten, Australia’s Assistant Treasurer, said: “We are pleased that after 24 hours of turmoil that common sense will be restored to the aviation and tourism sectors of Australia.”
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.
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 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.
“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.
Almost 20 leaders attending the summit had been booked to fly out with Qantas, but Gillard said most had made alternate flight plans.
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 over pay, working conditions and a plan to shift Qantas’ operational focus to Asia have been costing Qantas $16m per week, with the total financial impact so far hitting $72m.