plans to resume flying its grounded mainline operation within the next several hours after an Australian labor panel forestalled a lockout by terminating union industrial action.
Following a second day of emergency meetings, Fair Work Australia (FWA) – the country’s top labor relations body – ruled that further strikes will not be allowed and set a deadline for talks to end the airline’s bitter dispute with three of its major unions. The government asked FWA to step in after Qantas’s surprise announcement that it would lock out members of these unions and ground its mainline fleet in response to strikes and other industrial action.
This is essentially a win for Qantas, which succeeded in forcing the government to intervene. However, unions and many lawmakers claimed the Qantas moves were an overreaction, noting that strikes had been very limited in nature. The grounding caused hundreds of flight cancelations, stranding passengers around Qantas’s global network. The carrier says it will resume flights as soon as it can, with a limited schedule to be in place by as early as this afternoon.
FWA was always considered likely to halt the strikes and the lockout, but the main question was whether it would opt for termination or suspension of the industrial action. The unions were pushing for suspension, which would have meant a temporary cessation of strikes for 3-4 months. Meanwhile, Qantas wanted the strikes terminated, triggering a 21-day mediation period then binding arbitration if no deal is reached.
The airline argued that suspension would only postpone rather than solve its labor impasse, and would not provide enough certainty for it to return its fleet to the air. The federal government also recommended arbitration, as did most state governments.
Qantas CEO Alan Joyce announced on Oct. 29 that the airline would lock out engineers, baggage handlers and international pilots from 8p.m. on Oct. 31. The unions involved are the Australian Licensed Aircraft Engineers Association (ALAEA), the Transport Workers Union (TWU), and the Australian and International Pilots Association (AIPA). Contract talks with these three groups have reached impasse, but only ALAEA and TWU have held sporadic strikes.
The carrier opted to cancel mainline flights with immediate effect, in advance of the lockout deadline. The grounding was necessary because these workers are essential to the airline’s operation, Qantas said.
All mainline domestic and international flights were affected, but not flights by subsidiaries Jetstar and QantasLink, or flights to New Zealand operated by JetConnect.
Passengers were stranded at Qantas hub airports in Australia and overseas. By the afternoon of Oct. 30, there were 447 flights canceled affecting more than 68,000 travelers, Qantas says.
Rival carrierhas added capacity between major Australian cities to make up for the shortfall caused by the Qantas grounding. Virgin Australia partners , and were preparing to use their aircraft to help provide extra capacity. Australia’s Strategic Airlines is planning special “relief flights” between Perth and Brisbane. Many airlines also offered discounted fares to Qantas passengers.