Asia-Pacific

Australia's Julia Gillard furious over Qantas action

Grounded Qantas flights at Heathrow, 30 Oct
Image caption Unions have been battling to safeguard jobs and wages for months

Australian Prime Minister Julia Gillard has hit out at national airline Qantas, in her strongest criticism yet of the firm's decision to shut down its operations at the weekend.

Ms Gillard said Qantas bosses had taken "extreme and irresponsible" action.

In a surprise move on Saturday, the airline locked out its staff and stopped all flights in an attempt to end months of strike action by workers.

The firm said most of its flight schedules had now returned to normal.

The country's industrial regulator, Fair Work Australia, stepped in to end the dispute, ordering both sides back to work on Monday after emergency talks.

Ms Gillard has said she supports the right of workers to take industrial action, and on Tuesday made it clear that she was still angry with the company.

"Qantas on Friday was talking about continuing to negotiate this dispute. On Saturday it made the decision to strand tens of thousands of passengers around Australia and around the world," she said.

"It needs to take some responsibility publicly for that decision."

The airline gave the government three hours' notice of its decision to lock out its own workers.

Unions representing Qantas workers have been infuriated by the firm's restructuring plans, which will see a large part of its operation moving to Asia.

The firm's bosses said the lock-out was needed to end the dispute, which had been costing millions of dollars every week.

All domestic flights are running as planned, and international schedules will be back to normal within the next 24 hours, the firm said in a statement at midday on Tuesday (01:00 GMT).

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