Perth : As many as 17 heads of government and scores of other delegates and mediapersons are being forced to make alternative travel arrangements after the surprise decision by Australian carrier Qantas to ground its entire fleet.
Qantas' decision Saturday to lock out all employees has affected 70,000 passengers and 600 flights and has embarrassed Prime Minister Julia Gillard, who took over as chair of the Commonwealth at the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting (CHOGM) here.
Gillard took the tough decision to seek the intervention of Fair Work Australia, the national workplace relations tribunal, to end the crisis, the culmination of an ongoing standoff between employees and the Qantas management over pay and other issues.
A meeting called by Fair Work late Saturday ended without success, and another meeting was scheduled for Sunday afternoon.
Gillard told reporters that she had personally briefed the heads of government about the Qantas dispute, adding that "they took it in good spirit (and) they are working on alternative travel arrangements. Our staff who have made the arrangements for CHOGM are working to assist them to make alternative arrangements to get home".
CHOGM media director Daniel Gleeson also confirmed that 17 heads of delegations had been booked to fly with Qantas, though he did not reveal names. Some 700 of the 1,200 media personnel at CHOGM also flew in -- many presumably on Qantas.
Most leaders at CHOGM and their delegations are expected to start leaving Perth this afternoon.
Vice President Hamid Ansari, who heads the Indian delegation, is scheduled to leave Monday morning. He, however, is unaffected as he flew in on Air India 1.
CHOGM organisers have asked those whose visa status has been affected by the grounding of the Qantas fleet to contact the Department of Immigration.
An immigration department spokesman was quoted in reports as saying that there could be a number of people visiting Australia with visas due to expire in the coming days.
"This is especially relevant for people attending the CHOGM in Perth," the spokesman said.
"While the vast majority of visitors to CHOGM will be unaffected, there could be a small number of people who will need to contact the department for visa assistance." (IANS)