The Minister of State at the Department of Health, Finian McGrath, has said he would support a union call for the current Public Service Pay Agreement to be renegotiated ahead of schedule because of the rising cost of living.
His position could put the Independent Alliance on a collision course with its Fine Gael coalition colleagues, who have repeatedly stressed that there will be no additional funding for pay before the agreement expires at the end of 2020.
Delegates at the SIPTU Health Division conference in Cork unanimously passed a motion urging public service unions and the Government to accelerate negotiations for a successor pay deal to mid-2019 because of the increasing cost of rents, mortgages and the everyday cost of living.
The SIPTU Health Division represents 40,000 workers in the health service, including nurses, health care assistants, porters, and other health professionals.
The Department of Public Expenditure and Reform has said there are no plans to renegotiate the PSSA.
Attending the SIPTU conference, Mr McGrath acknowledged he had not yet seen the wording of the motion but there was a "very good chance" that he would support it - including in Government.
He said the Taoiseach and the Minister for Finance, Paschal Donohoe, were all aware of his views when it comes to supporting fairness and equality in the wages of public servants - and that he saw himself as a voice of workers.
Asked whether backing a premature renegotiation of the agreement would put him on a collision course with his coalition partners who had consistently said there was no more money for pay before the current deal expires, Mr McGrath said that they had been saying that for the last two years since he had gone into Government.
He said he had been "banging the table" on behalf of workers in Section 39 agencies, and that while they had seen movement through new pay restoration proposals agreed at the Workplace Relations Commission earlier this week, the game was not over yet.
He said the key thing was that everyone in Government should recognise that Section 39 workers made a valuable contribution to the running of services, and that they should pay them properly and decently and not lose any of them to the private sector.
Asked about speculation that the 9% VAT rate for the hospitality sector could be increased in next week's Budget, Mr McGrath said the lower rate was a key component of the sustainability of jobs which had been created in the sector.
He said the employers needed a break as they had created jobs, and the Government needed to ensure that they were sustainable.
He confirmed that ahead of the Budget, the VAT issue has not been resolved to the satisfaction of the Independent Alliance - though further meetings with Mr Donohoe may take place today.
Asked about the refusal of hospitality employers to negotiate new sectoral agreements with unions to improve pay and conditions for staff, Mr McGrath said he would equally point out to people in that sector that they need to sit down and talk to the unions, and to staff on the ground.