The fate of Qantas Airways’ long-running labor battle is now in the hands of federal arbitrators after last-minute negotiations failed to yield an agreement between the airline and its major unions.

The country’s highest labor panel, Fair Work Australia (FWA), had set a deadline of midnight Nov. 21 local time for the sides to reach contract deals. However, talks ended with no agreements, and Qantas announced that the disputes will go to binding arbitration.

This was always the most likely outcome, after FWA gave the unions and the airline a 21-day deadline to come to agreement. The government asked FWA to step in after union industrial action prompted Qantas on Oct. 29 to announce a lockout and ground all mainline flights.

Qantas held several meetings with the three unions during the past 21 days, although it appears that little progress was made in resolving key differences. The unions involved represent international pilots, licensed engineers and ground workers.

A further 21-day negotiating period was possible if there was sufficient progress, but it required both sides to agree. At least two of the unions wanted the extension, but Qantas did not. CEO Alan Joyce says that after six months of negotiation, “extending the talks by three weeks would not help us reach an agreement.” Joyce says the airline “wants to provide certainty for our customers and bring this issue to a close as quickly as possible.”

When FWA announced the deadline for the talks, it also ordered a halt to industrial action; this ban will stay in force even if binding arbitration drags on for months. However, the pilots union has launched a legal challenge against the industrial action ban, and the ground workers union is considering a challenge of its own.