ENTERPRISE Minister Richard Bruton has come under further pressure to drop plans to abolish extra Sunday pay and other premium rates from minimum wage deals.
The Irish Congress of Trade Unions (ICTU) clashed with the minister at a meeting last night over his proposals to alter agreements that set basic rates and conditions for 250,000 workers in sectors including retail and hotels.
ICTU general secretary David Begg demanded to know if the minister would formally propose that the Cabinet overlook an independent review by state mediator Kevin Duffy and academic Frank Walsh, and adopt his more radical proposals.
He warned that dismantling the wage deals, known as Employment Regulation Orders and Registered Employment Agreements (REA), would mean more job losses at a time when the live register was at an all-time high of 14.8pc.
The meeting came after the minister's Labour Party coalition partners distanced themselves from his plans this week, and would only publicly back the review's proposals.
Social Protection Minister Joan Burton has already ordered a departmental probe into his proposals to see if they will push more workers on to the dole.
However, yesterday when asked by the Irish Independent she refused to make clear her views on Mr Bruton's proposals.
"I would be concerned about changes that may impact on low-income families and constitute a further disincentive to work," she said at a Children's Day celebration at Ladyswell National School in Dublin.
"I think the independent review offers a very good way forward, but when Mr Bruton brings his comments and considerations of the bill, the whole of the Cabinet will be looking at it very carefully."
The row is the first major test of the Coalition as a review of the legally binding wage deals is a firm commitment in the €85bn bailout deal.
Last night, ICTU adopted the same stance as Labour and said it would "only go as far" as the independent review.
Unlike Mr Bruton's plans, the review did not recommend abolishing any pay rates or Sunday payments but the introduction of more uniform arrangements.
Mr Begg said the independent review had found employers' arguments that cutting pay would save jobs "wanting", even though they made 90pc of the submissions to the review body.
"In that context, if recent comments are to be believed, it would seem strange that the minister would overlook the evidence and take action that could cost jobs," he said, ahead of the meeting.
"Given the latest rise in unemployment, it would seem obvious that government attention should be on securing jobs, not driving people onto the dole."
He said the review had rejected claims that dismantling the Joint Labour Committee and REA system would open the floodgates to job creation or that lowering pay would create jobs.
Mr Begg said the review did warn that cutting the wages of low-paid workers could have negative consequences for the economy.
"With demand down 25pc in the last three years that is a path we cannot afford to go down," he added.