Qantas said 68,000 passengers were affected by the grounding of 108 planes in 22 cities around the world due to industrial action yesterday.
The Australian airline also announced that it would block personnel involved in industrial operations after months of strikes.
As a result, the pilots’ union threatened legal action against the move.
Australian Prime Minister Julia Gillard has called for an end to industrial action, as a result of which Qantas has grounded all its international and domestic flights.
The prime minister said the government had asked the regulator, Fair Work Australia, the “industrial arbiter”, to try to get the planes back in the air.
Julia Gillard also said she was concerned about the damage that could be done to the national economy.
“I believe the Australians want to resolve this dispute. I want this dispute to be settled, and we have taken appropriate action to present it to the industrial arbitrator. “ the Prime Minister said at a press conference of the meeting of the Heads of Government of the British Commonwealth (Chogm), which is being held in the city of Perth, Western Australia.
Thousands of stranded passengers reportedly included 17 world leaders attending the British Community summit in Perth, but Prime Minister Julia Gillard said they had found alternative flights.
Fair Work Australia called an emergency panel at 14:00 (03:00 GMT) on Sunday after an earlier hearing was postponed in the early hours of the morning.
Fair Work Australia can decide whether to order the cessation of industrial activities by both unions and Qantas airline management.
Alan Joyce, CEO of Qantas, said his planes could be back in the air until late Sunday if the commission ordered the cessation of all industrial operations, but he warned that the order to simply suspend it – as sought by unions – would not to be good enough.
Qantas, the world’s 10th-largest airline, has been hit by a series of costly strikes and other industrial activities that cost the company $ 15 million ($ 16 million) a week.
The pilots reportedly engaged in lengthy negotiations with management on wages, conditions and employment in Asia, but they have not yet left their jobs – unlike baggage managers, engineers and ground staff.
Capt. Richard Woodward, vice president of the Australian International Pilots Association (AIPA), said the shutdown was not in their plans.
“From the very beginning, the pilots made it clear that we would not take industrial action that hindered passengers. We adhere to this to this day. “ said Richard Woodward.
“Alan Joyce, on the other hand, chose to disturb the passengers in the most devastating way possible.
“The pilots have not gone on strike and we are not looking for anything that would harm profitability.”
Captain Richard Woodward described Qantas’ action as a “cynical act of madness.”
A statement from the Australian airline said that all employees involved in industrial operations would be blocked from Monday night, and flights grounded from 06:00 GMT on Saturday with planes currently in the air would complete their flights, but there will be no more departures.
Qantas also posted a statement on its Facebook page stating that customers booked on its flights should not go to the airport until further notice. Qantas said there would be a full refund for those affected.
Relations between unions and Qantas management began to deteriorate in August after the company announced plans to restructure and relocate some operations to Asia.
Qantas has a 65% share of the Australian domestic market, but suffers heavy losses from its international flights.
Restructuring is reportedly expected to mean the loss of 1,000 jobs from its 35,000-strong workforce.