Employers cannot legally cut workers' wages unless they get prior agreement from each staff member, employment law experts have warned.
The warning comes as staff in RTé are opposing wage cuts of between 5% and 17.5%. Eircom wants its workers to take cuts of between 5% and 10% for the next two years, as well as seeking 1,250 redundancies.
Teachers at the National College of Ireland are also facing wage cuts of 5% to 10% because of falling revenue at the college, while all but six of the country's TDs are resisting a cut of more than €6,000 from their wages by the dropping of long-service increments.
A leading employment solicitor has said employers cannot unilaterally reduce wages without first seeking agreement from staff.
"An employee whose wage has been cut without agreement could sue for breach of contract, irrespective of whether they have a written contract or not" said Adrian Twomey, head of employment law at Gallen Alliance solicitors.
Twomey added that while he has not come across any worker who has legally challenged a pay cut, and considered it unlikely in the current climate, he is advising employers to get prior agreement, in writing if possible, from workers before cutting their pay.
He said since the start of the year, there has been a significant increase in employers asking about the legal implications of wage cuts.
Dick Woulfe, head of employment law at solicitors Mason, Hayes Curran agreed that there were "legal implications" if an employer unilaterally cuts wages.
"You can't breach contracts willy-nilly," he said.
Woulfe added that employees whose wages have been cut could sue for breach of contract or could resign from their job and then claim constructive dismissal at the employment appeals tribunal. They could also seek more immediate redress under the payment of wages act.
Woulfe also said he has not come across any worker who has taken the legal route following a wage cut but added that they are waiting "with bated breath".
On pay cuts for public servants and politicians, Twomey said the finance minister can introduce legislation to cut pay, an option that is not open to private-sector employers.