MELBOURNE/SYDNEY (Reuters) - Qantas Airways (QAN.AX) hopes to reach an agreement with unions by a deadline on Monday, or face a settlement imposed by Australia’s industrial umpire, but a union said a deal looked unlikely in a bitter fight over pay and moving jobs to Asia.
The airline and three main unions, after failing to reach a deal in more than a year of talks, have until midnight (1300 GMT) to reach a settlement, or submit to the labor umpire -- Fair Work Australia -- unless a three-week extension of talks is agreed.
“We’ve been negotiating in good faith, and we hope that we can get a settlement by day’s end,” Qantas spokeswoman Olivia Wirth said on Australian Broadcasting Corp radio.
Transport Minister Anthony Albanese said substantial areas of disagreement had narrowed considerably and he felt a deal could be done.
However, Tony Sheldon, national secretary of the Transport Workers Union, said: “I am not holding out much hope at this point.” The union represents Qantas’ baggage handlers.
The unions’ main concerns center around the airline’s attempts to cut costs and set up two airlines based in Asia.
The Australian and International Pilots Association’s chief has been demanding that all pilots on a flight with a Qantas code or sold as a Qantas ticket should be paid as much as Qantas pilots.
Qantas and the three unions were ordered on Nov 1 by the Fair Work Australia commission to reach an agreement by Monday, after Qantas grounded its planes in a shock moved aimed at ending the disruptive disputes.
Qantas spokeswoman Wirth said it was possible the airline could reach an agreement with at least one union on Monday, if not all three.
If there is no agreement on Monday, the talks could be extended for another three weeks, or the airline and unions will submit to binding arbitration by the labor tribunal.
The Transport Workers Union wants the talks to be extended for another 21 days, on fears that arbitration will end up working in the airline’s favor.
Qantas Chief Executive Alan Joyce and Chairman Leigh Clifford have taken a hard line against unions after failing to agree a deal following more than a year of talks over pay and conditions.
The strike by unions forced Qantas to ground seven planes and cancel services that it said cost it A$68 million ($68.4 million) and led to a collapse in forward bookings, a factor Qantas cited for grounding the entire fleet.
Qantas shares, which have fallen about a third so far this year, were trading up 0.4 percent in early trade on Monday, slightly outperforming a flat broader market.
Additional reporting by Rob Taylor in CANBERRA; Reporting by Sonali Paul and Narayanan Somasundaram; Editing by Ed Davies