The Fair Work Australia industrial tribunal has ordered a return to work by Qantas employees after a dramatic weekend shutdown.
About 70,000 passengers worldwide were stranded when chief executive Alan Joyce abruptly shut down the airline's operations on Saturday because of continuing strikes and industrial action by three unions.
After the tribunal's decision was made late on Sunday in Melbourne, Mr Joyce said Qantas would get its planes back in the air as soon as it could.
"It could be as early as Monday afternoon on a limited schedule with the approval of the regulator,” he said. "I apologise to all Qantas passengers that have been impacted by the industrial action by unions over the past few months and in particular the past few days."
The airline must now put a safety case to the Civil Aviation Safety Authority to gain permission to resume operations.
The tribunal heard more than 14 hours of testimony from the airline, the Australian federal and state governments and unions after the emergency hearing was called by the federal government on Saturday.
Workers have held rolling strikes and refused overtime work for weeks out of worry that some of Qantas' 35,000 jobs would be moved overseas in a restructuring plan.
The unions wanted a temporary suspension of a proposed employee lockout but the airline said the strikes had been too devastating and it needed certainty to continue operating.
In a victory for the company, tribunal president Geoffrey Giudice said the panel decided a temporary suspension would still risk Qantas' grounding its fleet in the future and would not protect the tourism and aviation industry from damage.
The decision means Qantas has to reverse plans to lock out its workforce and unions are prevented from taking legally protected industrial action.
The decision also appears to vindicate Mr Joyce's strategy of bringing the industrial dispute to a head rather than suffering a drawn-out campaign that had already cost $A68 million and was slugging the airline at least $15 million a week.
The grounding affected 108 planes and cancelled 474 flights in 22 countries, though Qantas and Jetstar flights across the Tasman operated by the JetConnect subsidiary continued as normal.
However, Air New Zealand had to send staff to Australia to handle check-ins and baggage that are usually done by Qantas workers.
Qantas says the shutdown cost it $A20 million a day in lost revenue while the federal government estimated the daily cost to the tourism industry at $A256 million in the consumption of goods and services, and $A93 million a day in gross domestic product..
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