Qantas recriminations fly

SENIOR Gillard government ministers have savaged Qantas and chief executive Alan Joyce over the two-day grounding of the airline's global fleet, which has left tens of thousands of travellers facing at least one more day of frustration and delays.

As flights resumed yesterday, Prime Minister Julia Gillard described Qantas's actions on Saturday as ''extreme'', while other members of her cabinet took aim at Mr Joyce and the lack of warning to the government about the airline's shutdown.

Qantas received the green light from the Civil Aviation Safety Authority to resume flying just before 4pm yesterday - almost 14 hours after a marathon hearing of Fair Work Australia concluded with an order for the dispute to be terminated.

But the airline has warned ticket holders to expect more delays, cancellations and disruptions today as it clears the massive backlog of flights.

A notice on the Qantas website said all domestic services were scheduled as normal for today, but international services were not expected to be back to normal until later in the day.

Fair Work Australia's ruling came after an application from the government on Saturday, followed by two tortuous late-night hearings, the second of which began on Sunday afternoon and ended just after 2am yesterday.

After the order for the termination of the dispute, there will be at least 21 days of talks between the parties, after which the tribunal can compulsorily settle the disputes if there is no resolution.

In its ruling, the tribunal found the decision by Qantas to lock out staff and ground its fleet threatened significant damage to tourism and aviation, and indirectly to industry in general. This satisfied the legal test under the Fair Work Act for the tribunal to order an end to Qantas's action.

The tribunal ruled that the unions' industrial action was unlikely to have a significant effect on tourism or aviation.


The outcome was welcomed by investors, with Qantas shares surging more than 4 per cent yesterday. However, ratings agency Standard & Poors downgraded the airline's rating from stable to negative due to the threat to its reputation from its industrial problems.

Mr Joyce said he had no choice but to act after industrial action by unions cost the airline at least $68 million and caused tens of thousands of passengers to be affected.

''This was not a surprise to anybody I would have thought. We have been talking about it for weeks, months, about the pain this was causing Qantas. We were talking about this was not sustainable, that we had to bring this to a head,'' he said.

Ms Gillard said she had called the major players and she expected that deals would be thrashed out in the next 21 days.

She blasted Qantas and Mr Joyce. ''Let's be very clear here. Alan Joyce made it crystal clear to government that this was not open for discussion,'' she said.

''That is why I am describing Qantas's action as extreme. It had other options open to it on Saturday, including taking the same sort of application that the government took to Fair Work Australia.'' Mr Joyce said he did not do this because the airline's case was unlikely to succeed.

He said government ministers had been made aware ''multiple times'' of the plans to ground its aircraft. But Transport Minister Anthony Albanese disputed this, saying no one from Qantas had raised the prospect of a lockout until Saturday.

Mr Albanese said he called Mr Joyce yesterday to challenge his comments. ''He will confirm that at no stage did Qantas, Mr Joyce or anyone else raise with me the possibility of a lockout of the Qantas workforce until we had that conversation that afternoon,'' he said.

Mr Joyce said he stood by his comments, and said he was confident Qantas would recover from any damage the dispute had caused to its reputation.

The opposition's workplace relations spokesman, Eric Abetz, said the government had failed to act decisively and could have terminated the dispute itself through special powers, without going through Fair Work. ''This has been an abject failure by the government,'' he said.

Transport Workers Union national secretary Tony Sheldon said the union would try to strike an agreement with Qantas over the next 21 days but the Australian and International Pilots Association was not confident.

Qantas advised passengers to go to the flight status section of its website,, for updates on specific flights.