By KEVIN DREW
Published: October 29, 2011
HONG KONG ? Qantas announced on Saturday that it had grounded its entire fleet around the world, the most drastic move yet in a protracted labor dispute between the airline and its employees.
The announcement caused the immediate cancellation of 600 flights affecting 70,000 travelers, the airline said. Aircraft in the air will complete their journeys to their destinations, Qantas said.
Alan Joyce, the airline?s chief executive, said the airline?s fleet of 108 aircraft would remain grounded until the company reached agreement over pay and work conditions with the unions representing pilots, mechanics and ground staff.
The airline said that beginning Monday it would lock out all employees over a dispute with the engineers association, pilots, catering and ground handling associations. The grounding of the fleet will cost the airline an estimated $21 million a day. Mr. Joyce said the decision was made as a safety measure.
?This is a very tense environment,? he said, speaking at a news conference in Sydney.
A series of labor disputes, including strikes and bans on overtime work, have hit the airline as employees have voiced concern that their jobs are being moved overseas. Qantas has been forced to reduce and reschedule flights for weeks because of the disputes.
The announcement drew swift reaction from the Australian government and a pilots group.
?I am very concerned about Qantas? future. The government is making an urgent application to Fair Work Australia (an industrial court) ... to terminate all industrial action at Qantas,? Transport Minister Anthony Albanese said in a report from Reuters. ?This will be aimed at both actions by unions and by Qantas management.?
The move will not affect flights by partners across the Tasman Sea or by partner freight airlines, the airline said.
?It?s unprecedented and really it has hijacked the nation,? Barry Jackson of the Australian and International Pilots Association told Sky News. ?It really has put everyone on notice and ... it?s forcing the government?s hand on this.?