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Airline chief says unions “trashing the Qantas brand” would eventually force the company to shut down its business “part by part'”.
Australia's national airline Qantas has indefinitely grounded its entire domestic and international fleet over an industrial dispute.
The Australian Associated Press reported that chief Alan Joyce said the airline would lock out employees involved in strike action, saying that unions were "deliberately destabilizing” the company.
Engineers and pilots and ground staff have mounted strike action which Qantas says is costing it $15 million ($16 million US dollars) a week.
Joyce told a press conference Saturday that Qantas could not meet the “impossible demands” of the unions, who a day earlier had threatened a 48-hour strike.
We are locking out until the unions withdraw their extreme claim and reach agreement with us. They are trashing our strategy and our brand. This course of action has been forced upon us ... by the actions of three unions. The ball is in their court. They have to decide how badly they want to hurt Qantas.
Joyce added that refunds would be provided to customers who choose to cancel their flights, and that hotel accommodation and alternative flights offered to those who are in the middle of their journeys.
On its Facebook page, Qantas issued a statement saying customers booked on flights should not go to the airport until further notice.
The lockout of staff covered by the unions is to begin at 8pm local time on Monday.
Qantas enjoys a 65 percent share of Australia's domestic market, but it's reportedly been making big losses on international flights.
The BBC says the industrial dispute took hold in August after Qantas announced plans to restructure and moving some operations to Asia, with an expected loss of 1,000 jobs.
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The Sun Herald newspaper reported that Joyce had warned at an annual general meeting yesterday that half of Qantas would "be gone" within a year if unions pursued their industrial campaign into 2012.
He said the action risked at least 17,000 jobs, or almost half the Qantas workforce.
Transport Minister Anthony Albanese said the government had been informed by Qantas of its decision mid-afternoon, with no advance notice.
He said the government was extremely concerned about the future of Qantas, and would make an "urgent application" to the industrial court Fair Work Australia to terminate all industrial action at Qantas.
According to the Sun Herald, Joyce's decision to ground the Qantas fleet came as Qantas shareholders approved his own salary of $5 million.