The president of the country's largest public service trade union has urged the Government to prioritise pay increases ahead of tax cuts.

In his opening address at IMPACT's biennial conference, Kevin O'Malley echoed the call by other unions for income restoration.

He said pay increases were essential after six years in which living standards had been "battered" for all but a small elite.

He warned the Government that focusing solely on tax cuts would leave taxpayers subsidising low-paying but profitable employers through the benefits system. 

He said it was unacceptable that social welfare was fast becoming a safety net, not for citizens who were down on their luck, but for profitable corporations running on the exploitation of minimum wage and zero hour contracts.

Mr O'Malley also warned delegates that this policy would trigger further cuts to public services.

Income restoration was now IMPACT's first priority, he said.

He warned that living standards could not be restored without restoring incomes and that meant addressing the issue of pay.

Mr O'Malley also said income recovery could not be achieved merely by cutting taxes.

He stressed that there was no conflict between the public and private sectors as to who should be first in the queue for pay restoration.

Although he acknowledged that in the past, unions had not handled the public-private issues too well and he said that this would not happen again.

He said all sectors public, private, voluntary and community had suffered reductions in income.

Mr O'Malley told delegates that income recovery had to happen for all, though that might happen in different ways.