Qantas denies misleading senate committee over fleet grounding

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Australia's Qantas Airways has been accused of misleading a senate committee about its decision to ground its entire fleet in November last year.

The country's Transport Workers' Union (TWU) had pointed out that evidence given at the arbitration case before Fair Work Australia (FWA) by the carrier's chief financial officer Gareth Evans contradicted comments made by its chief executive Alan Joyce.

The point of contention is whether Joyce had made the decision to ground the airline all by himself and only on the morning of the incident.

Media reports in Australia also quoted the committee chairman Glenn Sterle as saying that Joyce had led the committee to believe he had made the decision on the morning before the grounding. This conflicts with evidence given by Evans that the lockout was discussed weeks before it happened, Sterle was quoted as saying.

"This is another conspiracy theory from the union official who was at the centre of last year's dispute," says a Qantas spokeswoman in response to the accusation, denying any contradictions.

"Qantas had always known a lockout was an option because it's the only form of industrial action an employer can take under the legislation but a range of options were under consideration and the decision was not made until the day," she adds.

The carrier also issued a statement with extracts from Joyce's comments to the senate committee in November 2011 which showed that a lockout had been considered but a decision was not made until the day of the announcement.

The Australian government had referred the matter to FWA after months of industrial action by various unions which culminated in Qantas grounding its fleet in October 2011.

Industrial action by the three unions cost Qantas A$68 million ($66 million), leading to the grounding that resulted in an approximate A$15 million per week in additional revenue lost.