The Technical Engineering and Electrical Union, which represents around 40,000 workers, is to mount a campaign to secure pay rises of at least 5% in both the public and private sectors.

General Secretary Eamon Devoy said they would also be seeking to recoup all concessions made over the last seven years on issues including pensions and working conditions.

He told delegates that after seven years of hardship, they were once more witnessing growth.

Mr Devoy said that there was an opportunity for workers to secure their just reward for what he described as the sacrifices made to pay for the mistakes of bankers, developers and other irresponsible elements in society.

He said the current wave of protests over water charges reflected anger over growing inequality in Irish society.

The TEEU leader said they had ended up with a tax that did not conserve water, and where families struggling to survive paid the same as millionaires.

He criticised former environment minister Phil Hogan whom he accused of "riding off into the sunset" to become an EU Commissioner with €336,446 in his "saddlebags" for this year alone.

Meanwhile, he said ordinary workers trying to clear up the mess left behind, were pilloried and even threatened with violence over so-called bonus payments, that actually meant that they would forego pay rises in the future.

Mr Devoy said the huge outburst of anger had put the Government on notice that people would no longer accept austerity policies that put the burden for paying off bankers debts on the backs of ordinary citizens.

However, he cautioned that anger about the situation needed to be directed constructively at those responsible, but not at ordinary workers trying to do their jobs and make ends meet like anyone else.

He said members were also concerned about exploitation of workers, claiming decades of deregulation had seen workers' rights eroded while the wealthy had been given what he called a free ride.

Mr Devoy also accused successive governments of facilitating anti-union firms in eliminating collective bargaining from many work forces.

He added that he expected the Government to honour its commitment in the Programme for Government to reform the current law on collective bargaining.

Minister for Jobs Enterprise and Innovation Richard Bruton has warned that demands for pay rises must not jeopardise the overall drive to create employment.

Arriving at the TEEU conference today, Mr Bruton was asked about the announcement that the TEEU is to pursue a 5% pay claim.

He noted that while some employers were doing well, others remained very fragile.

Asked whether the Government could afford a 5% pay hike for TEEU members in the public service, Mr Bruton said that Minster for Public Expenditure and Reform Brendan Howlin would speak for the public service, where there was a pay agreement in place until 2016. 

ICTU concern over EU-US trade deal

The Irish Congress of Trade Unions has warned that a new international trade deal could result in employers suing the Government if it raised the minimum wage, and have a "chilling" effect on governments about introducing pro-worker legislation.

Addressing the TEEU conference in Kilkenny, ICTU General Secretary David Begg voiced serious concern about the proposed Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP) between the United States and Europe currently under negotiation.

He said the trade deal, which he described as "profoundly anti-democratic", would make it almost impossible for governments to introduce progressive legislation in future, and would effectively complete the "subjugation of society" to corporate needs.

He said that the rules under the TTIP would be stacked in favour of business from the beginning.

He raised the prospect that this could allow a US multinational to sue a future government for raising the minimum wage on the grounds that such a policy decision affected its profits.

He claimed this would have a chilling effect on governments and civil servants, and that they would never again as a Congress be able to achieve legislative change to benefit workers.

He said similar mechanisms had already been used to launch lawsuits by major corporations against governments in Germany, Uruguay, Australia, El Salvador and Ecuador.

Mr Begg also warned that the TTIP could trigger a transatlantic race to the bottom, with the alignment of European labour markets with those of the US with all the inequality and insecurity that that would imply.

He claimed that this would reinforce a global drift away from mainstream politics.