TEN unions that overwhelmingly rejected Government plans to slash the public pay bill are likely to agree to a new deal.
As the coalition warned it will press ahead with new laws to impose unilateral pay cuts as a back-up plan, unions have indicated progress had been made in the renegotiations of Croke Park II.
Representatives have been locked in extended talks with Labour Relations Commission chief executive Kieran Mulvey, who insisted a deal would be reached no later than Friday.
"We think we have agreement in principle of potentially 10 unions who were opposed to the agreement last week potentially looking at it afresh with a more positive disposition towards agreeing to the details that have been negotiated," Mr Mulvey said.
Gardai and health workers said more progress had been made over recent days than throughout the entire negotiations process in February, when Government plans to cut 300 million euro from the public pay bill were overwhelmingly rejected.
Public Expenditure Minister Brendan Howlin told Cabinet today that while he still hopes overall agreement can be reached ahead of the cuts - which are to implemented in July - the Government will be prepared to strike side deals with individual unions.
"Mr Mulvey has been asked to continue his discussions with those unions that have yet to reach an outline agreement," a statement from his department said.
"The Government emphasised that it is prepared to enter into agreement with individual trade unions in the absence of an overarching collective agreement."
He said his department was working on contingency measures - given the "tight timetable" - and would continue to prepare legislative measures in tandem with the Attorney General.
Mr Mulvey was tasked last month to coax unions back into talks on Croke Park II, which they previously overwhelmingly rejected.
A conclusion was expected last Tuesday, but the industrial relations mediator was given more time to try to appease the unions - some of which had threatened strike action in the event of unilateral pay cuts.
Among the unions to vote against the original Croke Park II deal were Unite, Siptu, the Irish National Teachers' Organisation (INTO), the Association of Secondary Teachers of Ireland (Asti), the Teachers' Union of Ireland (TUI), the Irish Nurses and Midwives Organisation (INMO), the Irish Medial Organisation (IMO) and the Civil and Public Services Union (CPSU).
But today, the IMO, which walked out of the original talks, said fresh negotiations with Mr Mulvey had proved beneficial.
Director of industrial relations Steve Tweed said no concessions were yet been made on the so-called "critical issues", but agreement had been reached regarding overtime among non-consultant hospital doctors.
The IMO said while it expects pay cuts for those earning more than 65,000 euro to go through, the blow will be softened by the normal payment of the increment due after July 1 and the restoration of pay grades for those under 100,000 euro within 18 months of the conclusion of the agreement.
Meanwhile, the Garda Representative Association (GRA), which maintains it had no role in the original round of talks, said it welcomed the opportunity to negotiate with the Labour Relations Commission.
As gardai have no union representation, the GRA had no opportunity to discuss pay directly with employers.
However, general secretary PJ Stone said the ongoing talks with Mr Mulvey represented a significant development for industrial relations.
"This cannot be portrayed as an achievement, but under the circumstances we believe a fair and balanced compromise has been reached - and this is a testament to direct negotiations," Mr Stone said.
"We understand this to be a precedent mechanism for any future negotiations; and can be seen as recognition of our loyalty to the people of Ireland."
GRA members will be balloted on the new proposals, in which premium payments for working unsocial hours have not been reduced and allowances remain untouched.
Elsewhere, the country's largest trade union Impact, which supported the original Croke Park II, has treated fresh developments with caution.
A spokesman for the organisation warned it will not tolerate any changes to the agreement resulting from side deals that adversely affect its members.
He said Impact, which represents over 35,000 health, local government and civil service workers, will keep a "watchful eye" over the continuing crunch talks.
"If any element of the original proposals which our members voted in favour of - albeit with a heavy heart - are disimproved as a result of new side deals we will have a big problem," he said.
"There is no way the union will tolerate anything being inflicted on our members that is worse than what we originally agreed to by way of increment freezes, working hours or pay cuts."
He said if conditions are in some way improved as a result of negotiations with those who rejected the deal Impact supported, then the union will wait to see how its members are affected.
"Our position is we will wait until a conclusion is reached, keep a watchful eye and make sure any deal that is brokered will take our members into consideration and the fact we supported the original deal."