EY (AFP) - The shutdown of Qantas Airways' flights is costing Australia's economy "tens of millions" of dollars with each hour that it continues, a labour tribunal heard Sunday.
The comments were made by a government lawyer at an emergency session of the country's industrial regulator that has been charged by Canberra with resolving the unprecedented grounding to avoid damaging the economy.
They came as market analysts and hotel owners warned that failure to settle the dispute and get planes in the air again quickly would result in economic damage. "Hour by hour that goes by, there are potentially tens of millions of dollars of harm (being) done to the economy," said Tom Howe at an emergency session called by industrial regulator Fair Work Australia.
The lawyer also reminded Qantas and the unions represented at the hearing that the tribunal faced "a mutually exclusive but compulsory choice between termination and suspension" of the grounding and union strike action. The tribunal president, Geoffrey Giudice, agreed that the damaging standoff should be settled urgently.
"Time is on the wing," he said. "That's probably an unfortunate expression... but we do need to bring this to a conclusion very soon and if it means we have to do it by extortion I will do it," Giudice said. Qantas has said it was losing Aus$15 million (US$15.6 million) per week due to months of strikes and other industrial action by unions.
Qantas has urged the panel to fully terminate all industrial action -- both union strikes and the Qantas lockout of union workers that forced the grounding of flights -- while unions want a suspension for 90 to 120 days.
But Qantas Chief Executive Alan Joyce, who ordered the lockout, made it clear Sunday he would not put his planes back in the air unless he had the "certainty" of a termination, not a suspension, of all industrial action.
Market analysts also warned that unless the row over pay and Qantas' restructuring plans was brought to a swift end, the crisis would take its toll on the stock market and the broader economy. "These things can have quite a negative impact on an economy," AMP chief economist Shane Oliver told the AAP news agency. "It is in an area of the economy that can have quite a big impact nationally."
CommSec chief equities economist Craig James said many Qantas shareholders would sell their stock Monday, worsening a decline witnessed through the months-long row.
"There's not going to be too many wanting to buy the stock and there will be a number wanting to get out or at least reduce their exposure," he said after Qantas stock closed down 1.59 percent on Friday at Aus$1.54 ($US1.60).
Australia's tourism industry has been staggering under the impact that the strong Australian dollar has had on visitor arrivals and expenditure, and a long shutdown of the country's national carrier could worsen the problem.
Hotel owners also weighed in Sunday to urge the industrial regulator to settle the dispute as soon as possible to avoid further damage, even as the tribunal heard hours of evidence and accusations from both sides in the row.
"This has affected people all around the country and the lack of certainty is a real worry," Tourism Accommodation Australia managing director Rodger Powell said.
"There have been a lot of cancellations and there is so much uncertainty that bookings are not coming in. People just don't know where they stand," he said, calling for a quick settlement.
But Joyce said earlier Sunday that even if the lockout -- during which union staff will not be paid-- was resolved, allowing the airline to fly again, it would take at least six hours to get clearance from air safety regulators.