Public service unions are "optimistic" that the government will reverse pay cuts worth €200m a year for over 60,000 public service recruits hired since 2011 on lower pay.

Arriving for talks with Government officials today on restoring pay equality in the public sector, Forsa Joint General Secretary Shay Cody said that while the Government had not given unions any assurance that they might be prepared to shift from their position that no cash restoration could take place till 2021, the very fact that they were talking gave grounds for optimism that they could make progress.

Mr Cody said the talks would be technical and complicated, but they were starting a process. 

SIPTU Health Division organiser Paul Bell said his union would not take part in any future public servcie pay agreement unless pay equality was addressed.

Public service unions and Government officials are meeting today to discuss the two-tier pay system for State employees recruited since 2011.

Unions want the Government to bring forward payments to restore pay equality for those on lower pay scales to next year.

However, the Government argues that full restoration would cost €200m a year. It said that no budgetary allocation can be made before the current pay deal expires.

Since 2011, new entrants to the public service have been hired on inferior pay scales.

They now number more than 60,000, which is almost a fifth of the public service, with some earning lower pay than their colleagues for more than seven years.

Up to now, the Government has ruled out any payments to restore pay equity before the current public service pay deal - the PSSA - expires in December 2020.

However, last week the largest public service union Forsa urged to Government to allocate funding in October's budget to bring forward payments for new entrants to 2019.

It said amending a pay deal is not unprecedented and it would be warranted by the economic recovery.

Finding a fair way of restoring pay equality amid complex difficulties, such as variable pay scales and increments, will not be easy.

Even if the Government does agree to accelerate restoration, the phasing of payments will also have to be hammered out.

SIPTU Public Administration and Community Division Organiser, Adrian Kane, said: that following initial discussions today the two sides have agreed to a further meeting on the issue of pay for public servants in June.