The Minister for Labour Affairs has said the minimum wage could become a barrier to employment and any review of it must be 'realistic'.

Billy Kelleher said the Irish minimum wage is the second highest in Europe and he said the changed economic environment needs to be taken into account.

The Minister said he would be reluctant to give his personal views but a rate that is fair and equitable is needed.

He said the issue is now before the Labour Court and he said a constant review of the rate is taking place. The current rate is €8.65.

He said the employers and employees will be the ones that decide the rate into the future.

Meanwhile, employers are being warned not to take advantage of staff during the current economic downturn.

The warning comes from the National Employment Rights Agency, which has published its annual report for 2008.

The agency recovered more than €3m in wages due to workers who had been underpaid by employers.

The number of calls, interviews and inspections handled by the agency increased by 96% last year.

The problem of staff not being paid the minimum wage extends beyond foreign nationals, according to the Director of NERA Ger Deering.

The problem is not just one for migrant workers; the catering and security sectors were targeted during 2008.

NERA will concentrate this year on the contract cleaning and hospitality sectors to ensure employers in all sectors are aware of their obligations and the rates of pay due to staff.

Mr Deering said today the problem is evident across many sectors and added that there are significant breaches when it comes to the minimum wage and the keeping of records.

He has urged people to come forward if they have concerns over the treatment or payment they are receiving from their employer.