A strike for a cost of living pay increase: Solidarity with Aer Lingus pilots

By Finghín Kelly and Sean Burns 

Members of the Irish Air Line Pilots’ Association (IALPA) in Aer Lingus voted by 97.7% for industrial action. The threat of strike action over the busy summer period has caused bookings to decline by 20-30%, indicating how strong the pilots’ action can be.

IAPLA members in Aer Lingus have not had a pay rise since 2019. In this period, inflation has eroded wages by at least 24%. Workers in Aer Lingus also suffered huge hardship during the COVID restrictions, with incomes slashed over that time. 

Profits up, wages stagnate 

The public is seeing massive hikes in the price of fares in Aer Lingus, which is putting holidays and visits to friends and family abroad beyond the reach of many working-class people. However, these fare hikes will not go to the company’s pilots or other workers. They are going directly to the company’s bottom line and its shareholders’ pockets.

Last year, Aer Lingus’s profits amounted to a whopping €225 million. They also have an operating margin (rate of profit made on revenue such as fares) of 9.9%, which was far ahead of other airlines such as Air France, 5.9%, Lufthansa, 5%, and Easy Jet, 5.7%. 

The IAG group, of which Aer Lingus is a member, made €3.5 billion in profit last year. This is ahead of its pre-pandemic profits. In addition to these huge profit levels, it now has €11.6 billion in cash reserves.


This underlines the disaster the privatisation of Aer Lingus has been for workers in the company and the public. If Aer Lingus was kept in public hands, it could be operated as an essential public transport infrastructure instead of a cash cow for profiteers. In private hands, Aer Lingus has an increased drive to slash workers’ conditions while having no regard for the environmental impact of its operations.  The quality of the service has also declined – as the drive to increase the airline’s profits drags it In the direction of Ryanair. 

Despite Aer Lingus and IAG swimming in cash, the Irish state subsidised wages in Aer Lingus by €81m in 2020 and 2021 in direct payments to the company. 

According to Aer Lingus bosses, a pay claim of 23.8% is “untenable” and “exorbitant,” but this claim will just keep pace with inflation and the undermining of living standards that has taken place in the last few years. IALPA members were absolutely right to reject the 9.25% recommended by the Labour Court. Its acceptance would have seen workers take a pay cut—the pilots’ claim in nothing short of a cost of living pay increase. 

Aer Lingus has already attempted to undermine the Pilots’ democratic vote by demanding a second ballot be conducted on paper instead of electronically. However, this manoeuvre failed as the paper ballot had a resounding 99% in favour of industrial action. There can be no doubt that there is a mandate for strike action. 

Strike for respect

This strike is about pay, but it is also crucially about respect. Pilots are highly skilled and operate aircraft worth millions, and they are responsible for ensuring the safe travel of thousands of people daily. They deserve respect. 

Organising effective strike action is the only way to win the full pay claim and respect from the bosses. The action taking place in summer is a good start, but it must be built upon. Tokenistic, one-off days of strike action are insufficient to win fully. Maximising the impact of our strikes, timing them appropriately and having a clear plan of escalation beyond one or two days is the only way to bring the employers to the table. The longer the picket line, the shorter the strike. 

Pilots are not alone in their fight. Many other workers in the airline industry share their frustration and anger; all workers need a pay rise, and they should be reached out to see if solidarity action to maximum pressure on Aer Lingus is brought to bear. Added to this IALPA must wage a robust campaign to counter the inevitable propaganda campaign of the company bosses that will invariably be echoed in the mainstream media and from the political establishment.

The Socialist Party fully supports IALPA in its industrial action campaign, and our TD, Mick Barry, has forcefully supported their claim. If they score a victory, it should be welcomed by all workers in the airport and transport sectors. It will set a real example of how workers can win the pay rises we all deserve. 

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