Proposals from the Irish Nurses and Midwives Organisation to resolve staff shortages would have cost an extra €180m in a full year if implemented, according to confidential figures drawn up during recent negotiations and seen by RTÉ.

Nurses will commence a work to rule from 7 March over the failure to agree adequate measures to address recruitment and retention issues - and have acknowledged that the industrial action will lead to more patients on trolleys and longer waiting lists.

However, the confidential figures suggest that implementing the INMO proposals would have cost more than the €50m garda deal and the €120m accelerated pay restoration for public servants combined.

The most expensive item would have been paying nurses for meal breaks - which the figures suggested would add €83m to the pay bill in a full year.

Granting one hour a week for Continuous Professional Development would cost €48m - again in a full year.

Replacing every maternity vacancy - rather than 50% as at present - would cost an extra €13m - as would extending "Task Transfer" payments of time and a sixth between 6pm and 8pm. 

A proposed increase in undergraduate places would cost €4.8m, increasing the number of public health nurses would cost €4.5m more, while appointing nine new directors of nursing would add €1m to the nursing payroll.

The Government has consistently stated that pay issues can only be addressed through the Public Service Pay Commission and the subsequent negotiations on a successor to the Lansdowne Road Agreement.

The INMO dismissed the figures as a "gross exaggeration".

General Secretary Liam Doran said that no figures had been produced by the management side in the course of the actual discussions.

He described the latest figures as a tactic by the employer side to attack nurses seeking to resolve the recruitment and retention problem.

He acknowledged that pay issues would be going to the Public Service Pay Commission, adding that the issues involved in the current situation related to conditions.

He said that the right to be paid when a nurse didn't get a meal break was a legal entitlement.

No clarity on whether INMO action would halt pay rise

Meanwhile, the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform has refused to say whether nurses who take threatened industrial action from 7 March will receive an accelerated pay rise of €1,000 due from 1 April.

The Irish Nurses and Midwives Organisation has accepted that the proposed work-to-rule from that date will lead to more patients on trolleys and longer waiting lists.

The €1,000 increase as part of the restoration of austerity pay cuts was due to be paid to around 250,000 public servants earning under €65,000 from 1 September.

However, it was brought forward to 1 April to assuage union anger after gardaí were awarded significant increases costing an extra €50m a year.

The accelerated payment, which will add €120m to the public sector pay bill in 2017, was supposed to be conditional on industrial peace, as stated in a joint statement issued by the Government and the Public Service Committee of the Irish Congress of Trade Unions on 17 January.

"The additional payment is being offered by Government on the understanding that there will be continued adherence to the terms of the LRA, and in particular, its mechanisms to resolve disagreements before they escalate into industrial disputes over the remaining period of the agreement.

"The requirement therefore to adhere to industrial peace will be fully observed in all sectors."

On Monday, SIPTU will reveal the result of a ballot for industrial action of healthcare support staff in selected hospitals over alleged breaches of the national public service agreements and the employees' exclusion from concessions provided to other emergency department workers.

In addition, non-consultant hospital doctors belonging to the Irish Medical Organisation had threatened to ballot for industrial action seeking the restoration of a €3,000 a year living out allowance which was abolished during the economic crisis.

However, that ballot has been postponed to allow for talks.

Industrial observers believe the mounting threat of industrial action is a challenge to the Government's public pay policy - and of its resolve in facing down potentially cost-increasing claims.

Yesterday the Lansdowne Road Agreement Oversight Group met to consider the nurses' dispute.

Afterwards, in a joint statement, Minister for Health Simon Harris and Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform Paschal Donohoe, said the Government remains committed to a collective approach to industrial peace and the setting of public pay and expects continued adherence to the LRA by all signatories to the agreement.

However, this morning, a spokesperson for DPER said the department would not be making any comment on this while discussions are ongoing.