Qantas to resume flights after government intervenes in dispute

Sun Oct 30, 2011 7:51pm EDT
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By Sonali Paul and Ed Davies

MELBOURNE/SYDNEY (Reuters) - An Australian tribunal ordered Qantas Airways on Monday to put its planes back into the air, intervening in the nation's most dramatic labor dispute in a decade after the national carrier grounded its entire global fleet.

Qantas had taken the drastic step at the weekend to ground all flights, disrupting nearly 70,000 passengers and bringing to a head a bitter battle with trade unions over pay, working conditions and its plan to base more operations in Asia.

Qantas's action succeeded in forcing the government to step in and to demand the tribunal make an urgent ruling on the dispute, which had been bleeding a business that carries about a fifth of Australia's international passengers.

Qantas said flights could resume as early as Monday afternoon, on a limited schedule and subject to regulatory clearance. The airline hoped to return to normal in 24 hours.

"We are pleased that after 24 hours of turmoil that common sense will be restored to the aviation and tourism sectors of Australia," Assistant Treasurer Bill Shorten said after the independent labor tribunal, Fair Work Australia, ordered the end to hostilities in the early hours of Monday morning.

The tribunal ordered Qantas and its unions to end all industrial action and resolve the dispute within 21 days or face a binding arbitration decision.

Qantas shares jumped nearly 6 percent as investors welcomed the tribunal's ban on further industrial action, though the stock has lost more than a third of its value this year.

"Customers can now make bookings with confidence on Qantas...because nobody any more can take industrial action," a bleary-eyed Qantas Chief Executive Alan Joyce told reporters after a weekend of round-the-clock drama.   Continued...

<p>Electronic screens display cancelled Qantas Airline flights as security officers look on at Los Angeles International Airport in California, October 29, 2011. Qantas said on Sunday it had cancelled 447 flights affecting more than 68,000 passengers since grounding more than 100 aircraft around the world on Saturday. REUTERS/Jason Redmond</p>