Qantas Airways sparred with unions at a second labour tribunal on Sunday after Australia’s Prime Minister Julie Gallard called for an end to the industrial dispute that grounded the airline’s fleet.
Qantas grounded more than 100 aircraft on Saturday and said it had cancelled 447 flights affecting more than 68,000 passengers by Sunday afternoon. The carrier, which made a pre-tax profit of $552 million in the year to June 30, plans to cut 1,000 jobs and order $9 billion worth of new aircraft as part of a makeover to salvage its loss-making international business.
Qantas’ move came as an embarrassment for Gillard, who was hosting a summit of Commonwealth leaders in Perth, with 17 of them booked to fly on Sunday by Qantas.
Gillard, criticised for not intervening earlier in the dispute, said in Perth that the tribunal hearings were needed to quickly resolve the impasse. Qantas CEO Alan Joyce estimated the “bold decision” to lock out workers and ground the fleet would cost the company A$20 million ($21.4 million) a day.
He said the tribunal, which reconvened after a late-night meeting on Saturday, would have to terminate all industrial action before the airline could resume flying.
“We’re hoping a determination is made today and that will give us certainty about what we can do and start planning to get back in the air,” Joyce said. Qantas and the unions would then have 21 days to negotiate a settlement before binding arbitration would be imposed.
“Its obviously unpopular with people stranded around the globe but in the long-run, and (Joyce) is looking beyond the next week, it’s probably the right thing to do,” said Cameron Peacock, market analyst at IG Markets.
“We were dying a slow death. We had to do something drastic,” Joyce said in an interview to Sky News on Sunday.