The Irish Congress of Trade Unions has decided to hold a national strike on 30 March because employers - including the Government - are not abiding by the National Wage Agreement.

After a two-hour meeting, the ICTU Executive Council said it had hoped that its ten-point plan on tackling the economic problems could be the basis for a three-year agreement to take the country through the crisis.

However, it said congress had so far been unable to persuade the Government and employers of the merits of this approach.

It said congress could not accept a lowering of wages in the economy while profits remained untouched.

The union said that from an industrial relations perspective, Irish workers are no longer covered by a national collective agreement on pay and conditions since IBEC, the CIF and the Government have all now resigned from September's national agreement.

The executive council has recommended that affiliated unions should ballot their members for industrial action over the next three weeks.

IBEC Director General Turlough O'Sullivan said: 'IBEC deeply regrets that so much time has been wasted in getting down to seriously address the economic crisis.

'IBEC welcomes the Congress willingness to enter into discussions on a national plan for economic stability.

'Social partnership must be responsive to the unprecedented economic challenges now facing our country.'

The Taoiseach has told the Dáil that the Government is still interested in a return to discussions with the social partners, but that the decision it has already taken will not be changed.

Earlier, a senior trade union official warned of widespread industrial action if employers do not honour the terms of the national pay deal Towards 2016.

Some weeks ago, the employers' group IBEC called for the National Wage Agreement to be suspended for at least a year.

However, private sector unions argue that the deal already has sufficient provisions to assist firms in financial difficulties and who cannot pay the 6% increase.

They say that those who can afford to pay should not be allowed to back out of the deal.

Arriving for today's meeting, Eamon Devoy of the Technical Engineering and Electrical Union said it had already balloted 12,000 electricians for industrial action over a dispute with electrical contractors.

He warned that if the dispute with employers was not resolved this week, they would ballot the rest of their 40,000 members.

Last weekend, more than 100,000 people marched through Dublin city centre to voice their opposition to the Government's handling of the economy.

Bruton calls for new Budget

Speaking on RTÉ’s Six One, Fine Gael finance spokesman Richard Bruton said there is a need for a fresh budget that has to confront tax and spending.

Later in the Dáil, Mr Bruton urged the Government to fire the entire financial regulatory authority and to clear out the senior management of all the banks.

He also said a new regulatory authority would have to have international representation if confidence was to be restored in the banking system.

Second stage of levy legislation passed

The Dáil has passed the second stage of the legislation establishing the public service pension levy by 77 votes to 67.

There had been a fairly predictable debate on levy, which has been criticised by the Opposition as unfair on the lower paid, with plenty of anomalies thanks to the tax system.

Those criticisms were echoed from the Fianna Fáil benches by former Junior Minister Pat the Cope Gallagher, who urged Finance Minister Brian Lenihan to make the scheme fairer by addressing those anomalies.

However, he said he would not vote against the Bill, but would continue his efforts to change it within the parliamentary party.

Responding to the debate, Minister Lenihan said the value of public service pensions was far more than the contribution sought through the levy.

He added that people in the private sector had seen redundancies and decreases in their pension funds, and the economic pain must be shared.

The Committee and final stages of the legislation are due to be completed tomorrow and the Bill then goes to the Seanad on Friday.