Qantas chief Alan Joyce says he has the backing to stay in the job as the national carrier returned to the skies yesterday amid scathing criticism from the Federal Government over the weekend's crippling industrial dispute.
The embattled chief executive said the airline would return to ''business as usual'' after Fair Work Australia ordered all industrial action to be terminated.
Qantas planes flew again, 48 hours after Mr Joyce believed he had no alternative but to ground its entire fleet.
He was confident yesterday his own job was safe.
''I've had full endorsement for what we've done and I've been overwhelmed by the support from the business community,'' he said.
But Mr Joyce, was angrily contradicted by Federal Government ministers after he said yesterday he had told the Government ''multiple times'' of the airline's plans to ground aircraft.
Some Qantas aircraft took off late yesterday after a marathon hearing by the industrial umpire resulted in an order at 2am for the carrier and three unions to cease hostilities.
The Civil Aviation Safety Authority said flights would focus initially on the busy Sydney-Melbourne route, a boost for business travellers and for punters heading to the Melbourne Cup. Late yesterday other Qantas planes were on their way to locations around the country. Qantas will not be fully operational until tomorrow.
Prime Minister Julia Gillard criticised the grounding as an ''extreme'' action, as relations between the Government and the airline plummeted. She told the players to get around the table and negotiate a solution within three weeks, or face having a compromise imposed by Fair Work Australia. The termination of industrial action will allow 21 days of talks between Qantas and the three unions and then potentially an arbitrated decision. The Prime Minister, who leaves tonight for the G20 summit in Cannes, went on a media blitz to claim victory, saying the Government had achieved its objective of ending the industrial dispute after applying for an emergency order, which was subsequently granted by Fair Work Australia.
But the Opposition criticised Ms Gillard for not telephoning Mr Joyce on Saturday to make a last-ditch attempt to stop the grounding of the Qantas domestic and international fleet. Ms Gillard said the call would not have made any difference because Mr Joyce had made up his mind. Asked if she should have stepped in earlier, Ms Gillard said she had done everything she could.
Both Ms Gillard and Mr Joyce denied a media report that claimed she refused to take his call on Saturday.
Ms Gillard is angry that Qantas was grounded with no notice on a busy weekend ahead of the Melbourne Cup and while she was was hosting CHOGM. ''I have made it very clear to the CEO of Qantas that I do not believe this extreme action should have been taken,'' she said. ''It has caused chaos for the travelling public and Qantas had other options available at its disposal.''
Mr Joyce rejected the Prime Minister's suggestion the airline could have gone to the industrial tribunal rather than calling the snap lockout.
''The option of going to Fair Work Australia, in terms of the national interest which she is referring to, wasn't available, because there wasn't sufficient impact on the national interest ... that was our advice,'' he said. ''We didn't call on Julia Gillard or the Government to intervene, the unions didn't call on the Government to intervene.''
The grounding ''was not a surprise to anyone''.
''I said on multiple occasions we could get to a stage where we'd have to ground the airline,'' he said.
Transport Minister Anthony Albanese detailed telephone calls with Mr Joyce, and secret talks he brokered last week between Mr Joyce and union boss Tony Sheldon.
He said no one from Qantas had raised with him the prospect of a lockout and grounding of all aircraft until 2pm on Saturday.
That was contrary to what Mr Joyce had contended earlier in the day, Mr Albanese said.
Defence Minister Stephen Smith said the Qantas grounding ''came as a bolt out of the blue''.
ACTU secretary Jeff Lawrence said he believed it was still possible to achieve a negotiated settlement.