Qantas passengers spared further delays as strike grounds flights across the country

Qantas passengers will not face further delays tomorrow after the Transport Workers Union ruled out further strike action, saying people had been "inconvenienced enough".

More than 6000 domestic passengers across Australia faced delays today because of a strike by more than 4000 of the airline's ground staff over pay and conditions.

Strikers sit tight as Qantas fumes

9.00am: Qantas workers raise concerns over job security and pay as the airline criticises the action as 'unhelpful'.

"Everyone will be going back (to work) at 11am (Tuesday). All the bans that were on will be stopped," union spokesman Mick Pieri told AAP.

"We think the public has been inconvenienced enough."

He said he believed the strikes, which workers had threatened to continue for 48 hours after walking off the job this morning, had sent "a pretty good message".

Confusion sets as Qantas strike proceeds

Qantas workers make their demands known to staff and the public as cancellations and delays continue to plague passengers.

"It's up to Qantas now," he said.

Delays ranged from five minutes to 35 minutes, the Qantas website said, and all passengers on flights delayed more than 15 minutes were contacted by the airline. Overall, about 150 flights have been affected.

"Flights will start to get back to normal in the early afternoon, around lunchtime," Qantas spokesman Luke Enright told AAP.

Cairns, Adelaide and Canberra will be back on schedule by mid- to late afternoon.

The stoppage from 7am (AEST) went ahead after last-minute talks between the union and Qantas at Fair Work Australia failed to reach a resolution yesterday.

Earlier in the day, Olivia Wirth, Qantas group executive of government and corporate affairs, said progress could only be made if the union returned to the negotiating table and stopped the strike action.

"What it does take is for this sort of action to stop," she told the Seven Network.

"If they are serious about these discussions and representing their members, they need to continue their negotiations."

Ms Wirth defended the airline's track record as a good employer, saying it paid its baggage handlers 12 per cent more than Virgin staff.



Blog: the strike as it developed

11.16am: At departures, Don and Heather Nettle collect their baggage tags for a flight to Hobart. Mr Nettle thinks it's good the workers striked at a time less disruptive to passengers. "They've got to stand up for themselves," he says. "Qantas is just trying to offshore everything, which is probably not the right thing to do."

Barry Sayers and Tracey Kosky, who like the Nettles also just disembarked from a cruise around the Pacific Islands, say they were not concerned about the strike. "I'm used to it - I've got a nice, big suitcase here I can sleep on," Mr Sayers says.

11.11am: Looks like it's all over in Sydney. The striking workers have re-entered the T3 terminal and queue up in a single file to go through the security doors. There's little fuss, except for a few staff who can't get their security passes to work.

10.55am: Qantas shares fell 0.3 per cent at the open of the ASX's session, or half a cent, to $1.54, while rival Virgin's shares rose 1.7 per cent, or half a cent, to 29.5 cents. Not quite the impact the TWU would have hoped.

10.26am: Striking workers are returning to their jobs in Brisbane. But they won't know if they are getting paid for their half-shifts until tomorrow.

In Sydney, the recurring messages the workers want to get out to the public are "job security" and the pay of Alan Joyce and other Qantas office staff. But inside the terminals, it's not clear if the message has gotten through. At the international terminal, like the domestic one, there's the usual rhythm of passengers arriving and departing.

10.09am: Qantas baggage handlers at Brisbane say the strike proved the need for experienced staff as 12 people struggled to do the job four usually would. TWU Head delegate for domestic baggage handling Peter Sesge said they had been watching the staff at Brisbane Airport who had been called in to cover the baggage handlers while they were on strike this morning.

  • "We saw some things that were really unsafe," he said. "There were females operating equipment they had never been on before. For us to turn around a plane from arrival to departure usually takes 40 minutes with four men. This morning we saw 12 people doing one plane and it was still delayed by five minutes. If Qantas wants to make sure they are not doing unsafe practices they need experienced staff."

At Melbourne Airport at 10am, the departure board was showing that all flights were boarding on time, with the exception of Canberra-bound flight at 3.25pm that had been cancelled. Qantas ground staff in Canberra are walking off the job for four hours between 3.30pm and 7.30pm. Otherwise it looks like an ordinary day at the airport in the departures hall - not good news for the TWU.

10.03am: Michael Pieri, a senior airline official at the TWU, has been welcomed with cheers by the 50-strong workers outside the Sydney international terminal. "This is very early days," he tells the gathered men and women. "We're at the start of a war." He tells them the strike has been successful and to ignore the "handful of workers" who didn't walk out. "Don't talk to them." He adds: "Sydney, once again, the hub of Qantas, is united."

9.56am: TWU officials are starting to get increasingly grumpy at Sydney Airport. Seems they are starting to get frustrated that their campaign of chaos has only resulted in slight delays for 10 per cent of flights.

Con Kara, who has worked at Qantas for 25 years, says it's not only the baggage handlers and ramp workers that are on strike. "There's catering, bus drivers, cleaners, transport," he rattles out.

Waleed Said echoes the same concerns as his Qantas colleagues on strike. "It's not fair," he says, making reference to the pay of chief executive Alan Joyce. "We are the real workers of Qantas. We get up at 3am in the morning to work in winter and summer and even when it's 50 degrees [celsius]."

9.45am: Spotted: full-page Virgin Australia adverts in all the leading newspapers this morning. One thing you can say about Richard Branson - he certainly knows an opportunity when he sees it!

9.40am: Catering staff in Brisbane said Qantas may have cost international airlines time and money when they would not let them cater to Korean and Singapore airlines after 6am. Qantas catering staff joined baggage handlers and cabin cleaners in a strike this morning but planned to honour their catering contracts with the international airlines.

Head delegate for Q Catering Wayne Bailey said they were not locked out with the baggage handlers before 6am as Qantas allowed them to prepare food, but at 6am Qantas refused to let them to continue catering for Singapore and Korean airlines when they were striking from Qantas. "It was a bit of a disappointment," said Mr Bailey. "Some of these contracts we only hang on to by the skin of our teeth." Mr Bailey said the strike was more about job security than it was about money.

9.15am: A Qantas spokeswoman tells us the strike has had a "38 per cent impact" on their flights today. That's 56 affected flights out of 144 domestic flights across Australia.

Flights are expected to be back to normal by lunchtime in Sydney and Melbourne, with Cairns, Adelaide and Canberra services returning to schedule by mid-to-late afternoon. Airline spokesman Luke Enright said 90 per cent of flights were departing on time this morning, a result he admitted was better than expected.

9.07am: Striking worker Michael Barbara, 34, says this is the first time he's had a stop-work meeting since he started at Qantas nine and a half years ago. Mr Barbara, who has three-year-old and eight-week-old daughters, says the pay isn't what it used to be:

  • "I've just bought a house [in Carlton] and the wife's off work with maternity," he says. "You have to rely on overtime. Forty hours of work doesn't pay the bills. You need to work 50 to 60 hours a week, and weekend, just to make a decent living. I'm worried my pay's going to drop. Everyone's the same."

Mr Barbara said the union held the strike this morning instead of on Friday afternoon as they did not want to disrupt too many flights. "I'm hoping it's enough to let the company know we are serious."

8.55am: There's not much sympathy out there for the striking workers, if the first comments to this blog are any indication. Join the debate - what do you think?

Our poll is showing a more even distribution of views, but still a strong body of opinion against the strikers - 46 per cent for the strike, 54 per cent against so far.

8.51am: A Qantas spokeswoman said 10 flights expected to depart from Melbourne had been cancelled. All passengers with flights that were expected to be delayed more than 15 minutes had been contacted and others had been told to check the website. "We are only expecting the disruptions to last today,'' the spokeswoman said. Thirty-three flights were scheduled to leave Melbourne before 9am today, with about another 15 scheduled before the strike ends at 11.01am.

Flights to Sydney have experienced the longest delays, with a 7.30am flight not departing until 8.34am. Most flights have been delayed by less than 30 minutes.

8.44am: Qantas CEO Alan Joyce did the wage negotiations no favours when he accepted a 71 per cent pay rise earlier this month, boosting his annual package to $5 million. Read the story.

8.40am: TWU officials say there have been accidents on the Brisbane airport tarmac this morning as management and clerical staff take on Qantas baggage handling duties to alleviate the impact of the strike. TWU official Scott Connolly said the union had been surprised by Qantas's "aggressive" stance this morning when they locked out workers at 3.30am.

  • "They have management members, contingency staff and overseas trained staff performing our duties," he said. There is also a lot of clerical staff that they have put out and we have heard there have been a number of accidents and issue. A few tug collisions."

Staff had planned to work from 3.30am to 6am and then striking until 10am but about 100 baggage handlers were not allowed in to work when they turned up. Two hundred strikers marched through the airport about 8am before gathering for a sausage sizzle near the airport.

Many cars and trucks have honked in support while driving past and Mr Connolly said most passengers they had marched past had been sympathetic.

8.25am: At the Brisbane Qantas terminal everything seems to be running smoothly and there is not an irate customer to be seen or any long lines. Bill Quick's flight to Canberra was not cancelled but he said he would not have turned up to the airport if it had:

  • "Qantas kept me in the loop and it's been all over the news so it would be hard not to know your flight's cancelled before you got here," he said. "I don't think I know enough about the strike to agree or disagree but if this many people are striking I assume they have a good reason. Flight disruptions are a part of life, everyone knows that.
  • Chris Loy was waiting to check in with his daughters and said he kept an eye on the strikes. "I did think last night we wouldn't get out but here we are," he said. "I think it's a shame so many customers who have nothing to do with this are paying the price for a disagreement in negotiations."

8.20am: Qantas has scotched earlier rumours of an airbridge collision at Sydney Airport. Spokesman Luke Enright said: "I've spoken to the ops guys and nothing's happened."

8.19am: Social media seems divided on the Qantas strikes. Half the posts on Twitter are about today's industrial action, half are about a plan to trial iPads as in-flight entertainment. At least you'd have something to watch while you're stuck on the tarmac...

8.11am: Qantas spokesman Luke Enright said flights were expected to return to normal by lunchtime. "Things are going better than expected," Mr Enright told AAP. "About 90 per cent of our flights (under the new schedule) are departing on time, which is great." About 150 flights have been affected due to the strike action across Australia, Mr Enright said.

8.07am: So far all the passengers we've met here in Sydney have flights. We chat to Pru and Craig Chambers from Sydney, who are travelling with their son Lucas, 2. They are on the Qantas flight bound for Cairns, departing at 9.15am, and have experienced no delays.

8.02am: TWU spokesman Mick Pieri has confirmed thousands of staff who turned up to work before the strikes started at 7am (AEST) today were turned away. "They have locked us out since 3.30am," he told AAP. "When we talk about passengers and how they were inconvenienced, everyone has to remember that from 3.30am until 7am Qantas has been on strike not the workers."

Qantas spokesman Luke Enright denied it was a lock-out and said the workers would be paid. "(Workers that) had come to work and advised they would be striking ... (were told) we can't cause more disruption to passengers by having you come on and off shift," Mr Enright told AAP. "We will pay you the hours but you won't be required to work."

7.50am: We are getting reports of Air New Zealand flying to some very unorthodox regional Australian destinations. Has Qantas called in the Kiwi reinforcements?

7.46am: Josh Genner, also of the TWU, strikes a more defiant note.

  • "I'm sure the workforce will take any industrial action required until Qantas listens," he says. When asked about passengers unhappy with having their flights cancelled, he replies with a question instead: "Why has Qantas management chosen to do this?"

7.32am: The TWU says its members want a 15 per cent pay rise over the next three years, job security, more superannuation and the same rates for contract workers. Today's strike action is being taken in response to the lack of progress in negotiations, according to Transport Workers Union's national secretary Tony Sheldon:

  • "The TWU has done all it can to avoid service disruptions. We have turned up to each and every meeting with Qantas only to have our hopes dashed by airline representatives who don't seem interested in settling anything." He said more than 95 per cent of members supported today's industrial action.

Qantas spokeswoman Olivia Wirth lays out the airline's case against the claim:

  • "The TWU are asking for 15 per cent pay increase over the next three years which is just not sustainable in the current economic climate and when these employees are already the highest paid in the Australian aviation industry. The union is also trying to place restrictions on Qantas which would remove our flexibility to scale up or scale down our workforce in line with busy and quiet periods. The TWU is willing to allow its members to be paid 12 per cent less at Virgin and to enable them to have a lower pay scale for new starters but they are demanding that Qantas does not have the same flexibility."

7.30am: Pieri Michael, a 10-year veteran of the TWU, calls Qantas's actions "bully, scaring tactics". He says the workers are unhappy about jobs moving offshore. "What they really want is job security," he repeats a few times. A loud "yeah" erupts from the workers when he adds: "How do we justify [Qantas CEO] Alan Joyce's pay rise?"

7.14am: The strike is officially underway. Here's the program of industrial action for today (all times are local):

  • Sydney Airport from 7.01am until 11am.
  • Canberra Airport from 3.31pm until 7.30pm.
  • Melbourne Airport from 7.01am until 11am.
  • Hobart Airport from 7.01am until 11am.
  • Adelaide Airport from 10.31am until 2.30pm.
  • Darwin Airport from 6.01am until 10am.
  • Perth Airport from 5.01am until 9am.
  • Brisbane Airport from 6.01am until 10am.
  • Townsville Airport from 8.01am until 12pm.
  • Cairns Airport from 8.01am until 12pm.
  • Other ports (unspecified) 7.01am until 11am.

ABC news reports Qantas baggage handlers who have turned up for work have been locked out as the airline seeks to limit the impact of today's strike action.

Qantas has cancelled or delayed 55 flights and has warned problems could persist for the next 48 hours.

7.04am: It's all quiet at the baggage carousels at Sydney Airport, except for the voice of a newsreader reading out a bulletin about the strikes on television. Poignant...

6.54am: About 50 TWU workers wearing fluorescent tops stand outside Sydney's T2. Two of them are holding orange and black banners with the words "TWU: Carrying Australia." They are waiting for their representative to arrive so he can speak to the media.

6.46am: We are handed a pamplet outside the T3 Qantas domestic terminal by a TWU representative. It has the words "Qantas can afford Australian jobs" emblazed across it in red.

6.35am: We speak to Noel and Coleen Holley, who say they are delighted their flight at 9.15am hasn't been cancelled or delayed. "We checked our flight last night," Mr Holley. "Qantas were good and they kept us informed."

6.22am: It's fairly quiet at the Qantas domestic terminal in Sydney, with a regular stream of passengers checking in at the counters. The board shows some of the cancelled flights from 7am to 11am.