October 31, 2011

Qantas ordered to end labor dispute

Australia's Qantas Airways said it plans to resume flights Monday afternoon after a government labor board ordered it to end a dispute with its unions that grounded the airline over the weekend.

Qantas jets will resume service over the next 24 hours in a "safe and phased approach," company CEO Alan Joyce. 

Labor relations tribunal Fair Work Australia ordered an end to the labor dispute "to avoid significant damage to the tourism industry" after Qantas grounded its jets Saturday afternoon. The airline grounded 447 flights since Saturday and announced it would be locking out its unionized pilots, engineers, ramp, baggage and catering crews effective Monday evening amid a dispute with the unions that has dragged on for 14 months, the board said.

Qantas argued that the unions' demands would leave the airline "seriously impaired or destroyed." The labor board gave the two sides three weeks to reach an agreement, with a possible three-week extension if talks were making progress.

The decision "provides certainty for Qantas passengers," Joyce said in a statement following the decision. He apologized to passengers and said flights would resume as early as Monday afternoon.

The Australian and International Pilots Association said it hoped for a "positive outcome" from the talks, calling the decision to ground the airline a "gross overreaction" to its demands. "It is a sign that the current management has lost touch with the traveling public, its workers and the basic Australian ethos of free speech," the union said in a statement.

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