The Department of Finance has warned senior public service managers not to take it upon themselves to suspend or stop the pay of any staff members engaged in industrial action.

"It is essential that unilateral action regarding suspension from duties or pay stoppages is not undertaken by any department or office by way of response to industrial action," according to an email sent out to management last week.

"It continues to be the case that this department would be notified immediately if any such action is being contemplated," continued the email.

Finance fears that the suspension of a public servant by an over-zealous local manager for refusing to carry out their duties could exacerbate the tense stand-off and put the department on the back foot.

"We don't want to kick a hornet's nest," a government source said last week.

But the email is also seen as a more conciliatory approach by Finance than its initial threat to suspend workers who engage in disruptive action. For example, it advises managers that where staff request leave to attend union meetings, "normal considerations should continue to apply".

Part of the unions' work-to-rule involves a refusal to take on the work of a public servant on leave, including even those given leave to attend to union business.

But so far unions have been careful to keep any action within the 'law' and concentrate on disrupting internal government operations while steering clear of anything that would adversely affect the public.

Such action has centred on refusing to co-operate with information requests from government TDs and ministers and has focused on the Dáil. But action has spread to include bans on answering phones for set periods of the day; counter services in public offices were sporadically shut down last week.

Finance also stresses that it is essential for all local managers to inform the department of all actions threatened by staff in their section so it can "advise on appropriate responses to actions".

The email was issued just days before the public service unions decided not to escalate their industrial action for another four weeks to allow the government time to return to the negotiating table.