The union representing frontline banking staff has said it makes no apology for putting in a pay claim of 6% to protect its members against what it sees as an erosion in their living standards as a result of soaring inflation.

The Financial Services Union - which is holding its annual conference today and tomorrow - said banking staff had made a huge contribution in keeping a stable banking system in operation throughout the pandemic.

It said the claim was being made in the context of a return to bank profitability and the expected resumption of dividend payments to shareholders.

John O'Connell, General Secretary of the FSU, defended seeking the hike, saying the banking system did not allow for incremental payments.

"The only way to progress is through a two part system which incorporates inflation and performance," he explained.

"Our members' living standards have been eroded, savagely so with inflation at 5.1% and we apologise to no one for putting in a pay claim to protect their living standards."

He rejected suggestions that such a claim could lead to a wage-price spiral across the economy, noting that some forecasters were rowing back on their initial claims that inflation was transient and a temporary spike.

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"This could be with us for quite a while," he said.

Mr O'Connell pointed to the gender pay gap in the banking sector as an issue that needed to be urgently addressed.

He referenced CSO figures which showed a 30% gap in pay between men and women in banking.

On the planned exit of Belgian bank KBC from the banking market here, John O'Connell called on the bank to engage with the union on the transfer of staff to Bank of Ireland as part of a sale of loans.

"KBC don't talk directly to us. We've raised a number of matters to the Labour Court. We hope they'll turn up."

He said Bank of Ireland had engaged fully and comprehensively with the FSU on the matter.

"It's time for KBC to do the right thing and engage with us," he concluded.