Australia's PM calls for an end to Qantas dispute
Nearly 70,000 passengers were stranded Sunday as Australia’s Qantas Airways continued its indefinite grounding of all flights. Prime Minister Julia Gillard urged the airline to end the industrial dispute, saying on Saturday that the strike could affect the country’s economy.
Gillard ordered in workplace mediators Fair Work Australia, who met on Sunday in an emergency session. The three-member panel may suspend the strike for up to 120 days so that talks can take place, or order a permanent termination to the industrial dispute.
According to the AFP news agency, a government lawyer told the regulators that Qantas’ grounding was costing Australia’s economy tens of millions of dollars each hour.
Gillard said in Perth on Sunday that the government seeks “to bring industrial action to an end and to have the dispute resolved, so we can proceed with certainty with our iconic airline Qantas."
Qantas chief executive Alan Joyce said he too hoped for certainty and that planes would fly again if the panel ordered a full termination of all industrial action.
Joyce defended his decision, saying that Qantas could not have survived the sporadic strikes by baggage handlers, pilots and engineers that have plagued the airline since July.
Captain Richard Woodward, vice-president of the Australia and International Pilots Association based in Sydney, called Joyce’s decision to ground flights “insanity.”
"[Joyce] held the passengers to ransom while he blackmailed the government and the people of Australia," Woodward told the AFP news agency.
Joyce’s decision came a day after an explosive annual general meeting where unions attacked management, criticising hefty pay raises to executives, including Joyce.
Unions have been at odds with Qantas over wages and working conditions, and the possibility of outsourcing pilots to hubs in Asia. They say restructuring plans would axe 1,000 jobs.
Qantas said on Sunday that 447 flights were affected by the grounding of 108 aircraft in 22 cities, with stranded customers in hubs in Europe, Asia and the United States.
Qantas shares are expected to take a hit when the market opens on Monday.