Qantas Ordered Back In The Air

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Australia's labor tribunal Sunday ordered Qantas to resume operations a day after the airline locked out its employees and ceased operations. The tribunal Fair Work Australia also put an end to rolling walkouts by three of the airline's unions, which Qantas officials say led to the unprecedented action. In a showdown with pilots, baggage handlers and maintenance workers, Qantas grounded its aircraft Saturday and threatened to start shutting the airline down unless the unions stopped the sporadic strikes that have disrupted operations. "If this action continues as the unions have promised, we will have no choice but to close down Qantas part by part," CEO Alan Joyce said Saturday. "The airline will be grounded as long as it takes to reach a conclusion." He called the work stoppages a "high-handed ambush." Meanwhile, the unions say they were similarly shocked at the airline's dramatic action. The Australian & International Pilots Association claimed the shutdown was "pre-meditated, unnecessary and grossly irresponsible." Qantas normally flies more than 60,000 pax a day on 108 aircraft from 22 destinations, including, of course, the major city of Perth, where some folks not likely used to having their travel plans disrupted were briefly stranded.

At least 17 countries scrambled to get their prime ministers and other government officials home from Perth. They're there to attend the Commonwealth Heads of Government meeting, an annual get-together of 54 former British colonies, most of whom call Queen Elizabeth II their head of state but are otherwise sovereign nations. In addition to the 17 leaders and entourages who didn't have their own rides home, there were at least 700 journalists also depending on Qantas to get out of Perth. Aircraft were in the air within hours of the decision but it will take a day or two to resume the full schedule. All the unions are looking for more money and job security. Pilots want pay and benefits to transfer between the main airline and its budget spinoffs, maintenance workers want assurances the airline's new airplanes will be fixed in Australia, and the baggage handlers want to curb contracting out. The airline calls them "impossible demands."