Formal talks on a new public service pay agreement for the State's 340,000 employees are being overseen by the Workplace Relations Commission.

The Government side has already warned that there is very little scope for pay rises due to the additional cost of Covid-19. 

Informed sources voiced hope that a new deal could be agreed in 10 days to two weeks to allow for balloting and ratification before the current Public Service Stability Agreement expires at the end of the year.

However, they also cautioned that any PSSA successor was likely to be shorter than the usual three years. 

It is understood that the talks will be framed around five pillars.

Pay, which is the first pillar, has yet to be addressed but the government side has indicated several times that pay rises in the shorter term will be unlikely due to the additional exchequer cost of Covid-19 measures. 

The second pillar will examine unpopular measures introduced in the 2013 Haddington Road Agreement, which included additional unpaid hours as well as cuts in overtime payments. 

Some unions have ruled out a new public service agreement unless the hours issue is addressed but the management side - particularly in the health sector - has warned that the additional hours are now embedded in the system and that services and rosters would be affected without them.

The third pillar on sectoral bargaining is intended to allow for resolution of outstanding issues affecting individual grades groups or categories.

One source described this as a significant departure from the usual "one-size-fits-all" approach to pay in public service agreements.  

The fourth pillar will examine modernisation, reform, and the need to build on productivity measures already in the system. 

However, union sources said there could be resistance to any attempt to embed flexiblities that were agreed on a temporary basis in the special circumstances of Covid-19 in relation to issues like redeployment. 

The fifth pillar will address dispute resolution procedures and the requirement for industrial peace. 

Other issues likely to be on the agenda will include pay inequality for staff recruited since 2011 on pay scales 10% lower than their pre-2011 colleagues.

There have been some steps to reduce the gap over the years.

On Monday, Tanaiste and Minister for Enterprise Trade and Employment Leo Varakar described the two-tier pay scale as a "running sore" that needed to be addressed sooner rather than later. 

The substantive negotiations will get underway tomorrow morning with a session on reform and modernisation.