Industrial action at Limerick group of hospitals over a management consultant earning €250,000 is set to continue, after talks at the Labour Relations Commission broke down today.

Staff belonging to IMPACT are in the second week of a work-to-rule in protest at what they see as the excessive pay of the consultancy-supplied manager, currently filling the role of operations manager.

They have been refusing to report to or cooperate with the consultant, and have warned that the industrial action could escalate if staff are penalised for their actions.

The action is taking place at Ennis General Hospital, University Hospital Limerick, Limerick Maternity Hospital, Croom Orthopaedic Hospital and Nenagh General Hospital.

IMPACT official Andy Pike said that today's talks broke down after management revealed that it was planning to retain the consultant on the same pay but with lighter duties.

The union said management had told today's hearing that it hoped to fill the role of operations manager currently being performed by the consultant in September, after which he would be assigned to a facilities management role until the end of this year.

IMPACT claims that a directly employed manager in this reduced role would earn as little as €80,000 a year and has queried the value for money, openness and transparency of the appointment.  

IMPACT official Andy Pike said it would be reasonable for the expensive consultant to be off the books by the end of September at the latest.

HSE National Director of Human Resources Barry O'Brien, said it had never been the HSE's long-term plan to use an external provider.

He said the HSE has already commenced a recruitment process through the Public Appointments Service, and has pledged to end the arrangement with the consultant by 30 November.

He said the only difference between management and IMPACT was that IMPACT wanted the consultant's contract terminated by 30 September.

He urged the union to end the work-to-rule.

IMPACT insists that patients are not being affected by the industrial action.