There is growing optimism that substantive talks on measures to tackle the economic crisis could get under way as early as tomorrow.

Employer and union representatives spent the afternoon considering a broad framework document outlining general headings for discussion.

Union sources said that some outstanding issues remained to be clarified in the framework document.

However, they were confident that those issues would be addressed overnight, and the framework could be considered at a meeting of the ICTU executive council tomorrow.

Government sources have confirmed that they hope to have a framework document completed by the morning.

If it is approved, substantive talks on measures to save €2bn in 2009 could get under way immediately.

As yet no specific Government cost-cutting measures have been revealed.

The Government had been expected to present the negotiators with a framework document containing a number of headings for discussion as priorities for restabilising the public finances.

It is understood the headings included taxation, the banking crisis, the public finances, unemployment, and a commitment to reflect a pact with some dimension of social solidarity.

IBEC Director General Turlough O'Sullivan also voiced optimism that the framework document could provide a basis for progress.

He said the document on the table presented enough flexibility and common sense for them to be able with good sense to come out the other end with an agreement.

Meanwhile it is understood that the Construction Industry Federation may resume a role in the partnership talks.

They had been outside the process since the construction sector rejected the pay terms of the national wage agreement in October.

Earlier the CIF warned that without Government action, the sector could lose 55,000 jobs by the end of next year.

Speaking on his way into this afternoon's talks, Mr O'Sullivan said that he favours capping executive pay as a gesture to lower paid workers.

He said that he himself has taken a 6% pay cut, while the pay of other staff in the employers' group is frozen.

He also confirmed that subscriptions from IBEC members will not rise this year, and are unlikely to rise next year either.

Mr O'Sullivan said that despite their call for deferral of all pay increases for at least a year, employers remain committed to social partnership.

But he warned that business was under huge pressure.

He said that he had invited union leaders to meet representatives of businesses to hear at first hand about their problems.

He said that while broadening the tax base might be necessary, it was essential that they did not increase the burden of corporate or personal tax.

Asked what was left, he said the level of public spending must be looked at.

Meanwhile the Chief Executive of Chambers Ireland Ian Talbot echoed IBEC's call for deferral of pay rises.

He said it was time for specific proposals to be put on the table, but that if a deal could not be reached through agreement, the Government would have to lead.

Coughlan emphasises partnership

Meanwhile, Tánaiste Mary Coughlan has said the Government will do what is necessary to help the Irish economy recover, but she said the Government wanted to move forward with agreement from the social partners.

She said the work of the social partners is pivotal in Ireland's economic recovery.

The Enterprise, Trade and Employment Minister said the public appreciates the seriousness of the situation and the challenges facing the country.

Ms Coughlan said she empathised with people who had found themselves out of work, a sign that recovering Ireland's competitiveness is central to improve the country's economic well being.

She said the ongoing situation where price differentials between north and south are an issue may be dealt with in legislation if retailers do not address the issue.

Minister Coughlan said today that the claim by retailers that operational costs here are higher do not stand up.

She said operational costs could only account for a price differential in the region of 5-6%.