Qantas starts flights after union ruling

Marion Dakers
QANTAS Airways planes returned to the skies yesterday morning, after the Australian firm grounded its entire global fleet over the weekend to force the government to intervene in the nation’s worst labour dispute in a decade.

Shares in the firm jumped 4.3 per cent yesterday after a labour tribunal, at the government’s request, ordered Qantas to resume flights and said the unions cannot strike again during up to 21 days of further talks with the airline.

If the two sides cannot agree a deal, they will be forced into binding arbitration.

“That was the only way we could bring that to a head,” a bleary-eyed Qantas chief Alan Joyce told reporters after 36 hours of round-the-clock brinkmanship.

Qantas took the drastic step to ground all flights on Saturday, disrupting 70,000 passengers and spurring the government to seek a quick end to hostilities between the airline and unions.

About 2,000 passengers were left stranded in Heathrow airport and other airports across Europe. Qantas runs routes to Bangkok, Hong Kong, Melbourne, Singapore and Sydney from Heathrow, though a number of flights were delayed yesterday.

Moody’s and Standard & Poor’s warned of possible credit downgrades for the airline yesterday, citing the grounding and the risk of brand damage. Both agencies currently rate Qantas at the lower end of investment grade.

Qantas says it has lost about A$70m (£56.9m) since September from industrial action in its dispute with three trade unions over pay, working conditions and its Asian plan. Joyce had described the union campaign as “death by a thousand cuts” for the 90-year-old airline.