Qantas resumes flights as court orders end to dispute

Australian Prime Minister Julia Gillard says Fair Work Australia's ruling is "a win for passengers"

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Qantas has resumed its flights after an independent tribunal ordered a permanent end to the industrial dispute with its union members.

Qantas said it had received permission from the Civil Aviation Safety Authority (CASA) to resume flights.

The move comes after Fair Work Australia issued a ruling, after hearing evidence from the airline, unions and the government.

Qantas grounded all Saturday's flights, affecting some 70,000 travellers.

"Qantas sincerely regrets the impact on customers of industrial action over recent months and looks forward to a rapid recovery and period of stability," the company said in a statement.

"Qantas expects to restore its schedule to normal within 24 to 48 hours."

'Challenging period'

The airline and the union members have been involved in a dispute since August this year when the carrier announced a plan to restructure its operations and outsource some of the services.

Start Quote

We have new and existing agreements with 12 unions. We now anticipate the conclusion of agreements with the remaining three”

End Quote Alan Joyce Chief executive, Qantas

The unions have voiced opposition to the plan which is expected to result in almost 1,000 job cuts at Qantas' Australian operations.

Last week, Qantas claimed that the industrial dispute was costing it A$15m ($16m; £12m) per week due to flight cancellations and delays.

The dispute took a dramatic turn on Saturday when in an unprecedented move, Qantas grounded all international and domestic flights.

Passenger Jen Cleary, returning home to South Australia from the UK, said she had difficulty contacting Qantas staff to re-book her flight and was eventually given a "horrendous" itinerary.

"We haven't slept since early Sunday UK time and have had a dreadful experience," she told the BBC.

"I actually feel sorry for Qantas staff and blame the management. What they have done here is un-Australian."

Other passengers took a more forgiving view.

"They've put us in a hotel for the night. Wasn't too bad and yeah, looking forward to getting home and having some cold beers, I reckon," Adam Cottrell from Perth told the Reuters news agency.

"This has been a challenging period for Qantas, its employees, its customers and its shareholders," said Qantas chief executive Alan Joyce.

However, Mr Joyce added that the matter was now being looked into by the tribunal and he was confident the airline and unions will work together to find a solution.

"The industrial process has now passed into the hands of the independent umpire. All parties will be treated equally and we will respect the decisions that are made," he said.

"We have new and existing agreements with 12 unions. We now anticipate the conclusion of agreements with the remaining three."

Permanent end

Qantas dispute

  • August 2011: Qantas announces restructuring and outsourcing plan to combat annual losses in international operation of about A$200m
  • Unions begin series of strikes, pressing for more job security
  • Qantas says 447 flights cancelled and 68,000 passengers affected, at cost of A$68m
  • 29 Oct: Qantas grounds entire domestic and international fleet - 108 planes at 22 airports
  • 30 Oct: Industrial tribunal orders end to dispute, clearing flights to resume

Fair Work Australia, the national industrial tribunal, has the power to suspend or terminate industrial action.

The tribunal said "we have decided to terminate protected industrial action in relation to each of the proposed enterprise agreements immediately".

The ruling requires the unions to return to the negotiating table and come to an agreement within 21 days or face binding arbitration.

Fair Work Australia said its ruling had taken into account its concern for the vulnerability of the tourism industry.

Australia's government welcomed the decision.

"We are pleased that after 24 hours of turmoil, common sense has been restored," said Assistant Treasurer Bill Shorten.

Mr Joyce had warned Qantas would only resume operations if the tribunal ordered a permanent end, rather than merely a suspension, of industrial action.

The unions had wanted a suspension for up to 120 days to allow talks.

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