The Irish Nurses and Midwives Organisation has warned that if industrial action by members is reinstated, it will be because of the employers' insistence on imposing a contract it described as "punitive".

Speaking after a two-and-a-half hour Labour Court hearing on the disputed contract, General Secretary Phil Ní Sheaghdha said nurses and midwives were happy to deal with all issues of productivity and enhance their practice - but not in a manner that brought them back about 20 years.

She said the INMO had spent a great deal of time over the last number of weeks trying to use procedure to avoid going back into dispute, but that if the employers' insistence on a punitive contract continued, then it would be because of that that industrial action would be reinstated.

Ms Ní Sheaghdha accused the management side of not having the imagination to do anything other than penalise nurses and midwives.

She said the Labour Court had not indicated when it would issue its recommendation, but expressed the hope that it would emerge before the INMO executive meets on Friday.

The Minister for Health has said he is hopeful the Labour Court will resolve the contract issues.

Responding to comments from the INMO that it might reinstate its industrial action, Simon Harris said: "I think the way you resolve disputes is you actually sit around tables, you try and sort them out, you use the industrial relations mechanism and you don't threaten the other side." 

Mr Harris said he was not going to engage in speculation about industrial action "when all parties, in good faith, are going to enter into conversations with the Labour Court today".

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SIPTU will resume talks at a separate Labour Court hearing today for its 4,000 members.

Leaving the Labour Court, SIPTU Health Division Organiser Paul Bell said his union had "confidently and robustly" challenged the demands of health service employers.

He said SIPTU had requested that the employer side convince not only the unions but also the Labour Court that what was being demanded was actually feasible.

Mr Bell said SIPTU was absolutely confident that the Labour Court fully understood the concerns that members had communicated to the union on all the key points including assimilation to the new Enhanced Nurse Practice grade, as well as the employers demands on redeployment and the right to vary working hours and shifts.

The issues of the 6,000 members of the Psychiatric Nurses Association are being dealt with through a separate process.