Mid-ranking civil servants are to demand the reversal of significant cuts to their paid sick leave entitlements, which Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform Brendan Howlin described as one of his key achievements in public service reform.

Delegates at the annual conference of the Public Service Executive Union unanimously passed a motion seeking reversal of the halving of their long term sick leave pay, on the basis that the measure represents a considerable diminution of their terms and conditions of employment.

However, PSEU General Secretary Tom Geraghty told the conference that despite an imminent review of the new arrangements, the blunt reality was that it was highly unlikely that the Government would agree to wind back the clock and reinstate their previous entitlements.

Mr Howlin has previously stated that up to 2012, sick leave in the public service was costing over €500m per year and said the reforms would result in increased productivity, cuts in absenteeism levels and reduced cost. 

Prior to the economic crisis, public servants were entitled to sick leave on full pay for up to six months, followed by six months on half pay in any four year period.

However, a binding ruling by the Labour Court effectively halved those entitlements. 

Public servants are now entitled to three months on full pay, following by three months on half pay. 

Under a separate critical illness protocol, members suffering from long term serious illness like cancer retain the original entitlements. 

Meanwhile, the General Secretary of the Irish Congress of Trade Unions has claimed that there are very strong forces who would "walk over hot coals" to prevent the introduction of new legislation on collective bargaining.

Speaking at the PSEU conference in Killarney, Patricia King said the interests of those forces would not be served if stronger collective bargaining legislation were on the statute book. 

She said it would be "naive in the extreme" to think that the delay in the publication of the new legislation was an accident or down to political ineptitude. 

She said the pending legislation on collective bargaining had the capacity to remedy a sizable proportion of the difficulties facing workers in the Dunnes Stores dispute, but said she always believed that some in the business community and some deep in the establishment were never in favour of such legislation. 

Ms King warned that if the collective bargaining legislation were not passed through the Oireachtas, or were weakened through challenges by those with deep pockets, the day could come where members would have to stand together. 

However, she said the question of industrial action would be a matter for unions. 

Under the proposed collective bargaining legislation, workers in companies which refused to recognise trade unions could have their pay and conditions determined by the Labour Court based on comparisons with comparable companies. 

That determination could then be enforced in the Circuit Court. 

She voiced support for workers at Dunnes Stores, saying the employer's moral compass was completely skewed.

She told delegates she had recently been seeking to influence people in the establishment to introduce an amendment to the Orgaisation of Working Time Act to give workers some sort of entitlement to banded hour contracts, which deliver more certainty over their working hours and income.

However, she said that had not happened.

She said people in the establishment who had the power to implement reforms must never have suffered the same as Dunnes Stores workers, because if they had they would not be standing back. 

She said Ireland remained a low pay economy, where a fifth of workers earn less than a living wage. 

She told delegates that 68,000 workers earn the national minimum wage or less, 244,000 were on variable hours, and 147,000 were willing to work more hours, but couldn't get them. 

She also noted that the state spends €300m a year to subsidise working families on inadequte pay.

She said the JobBridge internship scheme should be dumped in a bin, as it had not worked, demeaned people and was an avenue for cheap labour. 

She acknowledged that apart from workers who lost their livelihoods during the recession, public service workers had paid a huge price for a crisis they didn't cause.