QANTAS has won some respite from the damaging strikes that have disrupted passengers and hurt the airline's ability to fly, with a key union dropping all industrial action for at least three weeks.
The move by the engineers' union was last night welcomed by the Gillard government and Workplace Relations Minister Chris Evans, but he warned the government would not allow the dispute to ''drag on''.
But while the engineers were pulling back, the union representing baggage handlers and caterers announced a fresh round of short strikes next Wednesday, with one-hour stoppages at Canberra and Cairns and a three-hour strike at Sydney Airport.
Transport Workers Union national secretary Tony Sheldon accused Qantas management of wanting to ''Jetstar'' the entire company by cutting wages and conditions. The TWU had already flagged one-hour strikes in Melbourne and Brisbane on Tuesday.
Senator Evans said he was concerned by aspects of the dispute and described it as ''intractable and, at times, bitter''. ''I think we've seen a lot of tactical manoeuvres, a lot of talking through the media in recent weeks.''
He said while none of the parties had asked the government to intervene, the government could move to suspend industrial action if there was no progress. ''If the government gets to a point when we think that the damage being done by the dispute is of such a level that we ought to try and intervene, we can seek to intervene before Fair Work Australia and ask them to make orders that might see a cooling off period or a suspension.''
Senator Evans described the main issue in the dispute as job security. ''This is more than about pay and conditions. It is about that fundamental issue of the future of their jobs, given Qantas's business decisions.''
He said Qantas had a right to make those decisions but it had to find a way to resolve its differences with its staff.
Yesterday's surprise move by the Australian Licensed Aircraft Engineers Association to drop all industrial action for three weeks comes after it had earlier warned of strike action until Christmas.
Federal secretary Steve Purvinas said the suspension of industrial action was a '''challenge'' for Qantas to get its grounded planes back flying.
''We don't think these aircraft have been grounded due to industrial action because the maintenance plans for these aircraft have shown all along that the aircraft were up for sale,'' he said.
Qantas Group executive Olivia Wirth said the industrial truce was only a ''temporary postponement'' and ''does not provide certainty for Qantas, its passengers and employees''. She said the ''real damage has already been done'', with seven planes grounded and 500 flights cancelled.
Mr Purvinas said the wages outcome in the dispute had been settled at 3 per cent a year. ''We believe the only outstanding matters relate to job security.''