The one-hour paid lunch break enjoyed by Ireland's 4,800 junior doctors costs €38m a year, a HSE spokesman said this weekend.
Last week, junior doctors – members of the Irish Medical Organisation (IMO) – voted 99% in favour of industrial action should the HSE proceed with more than €100m in pay cuts, including the withdrawal of the paid lunch break.
The HSE claim junior doctors are the only health workers who enjoy a paid lunch break. But the IMO argues that all junior doctors work through their lunch break, examining patients' charts and case files while they eat.
The lunch allowance is one of several areas being targeted by the HSE as part of its effort to cut at least €100m off the junior doctors' total paybill of €540m.
It also wants to end the €65 per week living-out allowance introduced in the 1970s, when hospitals required doctors to live closeby in case they are needed urgently. The HSE claims it is outdated.
The HSE is also looking to alter payment of the annual training grant worth €3,800 for each junior doctor. These grants can be rolled over for up to three years so doctors can claim more than €11,000.
Although around half of the 4,800 doctors are not in training posts, the HSE says all doctors claim the allowance.
The HSE also wants to cut back on the mounting overtime bill for junior doctors, which has soared to €240m, around €50,000 per doctor.