Australia’s Qantas Airways returned to the air on Monday after grounding its entire global fleet over the weekend in a bold tactic to force the government to intervene in the nation’s worst labor dispute in a decade.
Qantas took the drastic step to ground all flights on Saturday, disrupting 70,000 passengers and spurring the government and its labor-market regulator to seek a quick end to hostilities between the airline and unions.
At the government’s instigation, Australia’s labor tribunal ordered Qantas to resume flights and banned trade unions, which have waged a damaging campaign of industrial action, from staging more strikes while negotiations continued.
“That was the only way we could bring that to a head,” a bleary-eyed Qantas CEO Alan Joyce told reporters after 36 hours of round-the-clock brinkmanship.
Later, after being given the all-clear from aviation regulators, Qantas resumed flights from Sydney with an Airbus A330 bound for Jakarta. Around the country and overseas, airport departure lounges filled up with Qantas passengers keen to resume their journeys after a frustrating weekend of waiting.
“I understand strikes happen, but to stop all flights without thinking about the passengers – I don’t agree with that,” said Mary Keers, a 50-year-old Irishwoman waiting at Singapore’s Changi Airport to catch a flight to Perth.
Joyce, dubbed a “kamikaze” by one newspaper for effectively staging his own strike against the unions, came under fire from Canberra and also credit rating agencies for the grounding.
Moody’s and Standard & Poor’s signaled possible credit downgrades for the airline on Monday, citing the grounding and the risk of brand damage. Both agencies currently rate Qantas at the lower end of investment grade.