The union representing staff in AIB is considering legal action to secure extra payments for thousands of low-paid staff. The move is a response to finance minister Brian Lenihan's pre-Christmas intervention to stop AIB paying out €35m in bonuses to high earners.

Larry Broderick, general secretary of the Irish Bank Officials Association, told the Sunday Tribune that while Lenihan's move was primarily targeted at highly paid traders due six-figure bonuses, it also affects relatively low-paid staff, some of whom earn as little as €22,000 a year.

These workers, who are employed at the bank's call centres in Naas, Swords and Belfast, are set to lose very modest performance awards ranging from €500 to €1,000, said Broderick. He stressed that these payments were part of the employees' contract and included extra payments for working outside normal hours where there is no overtime.

"These may be insubstantial in terms of the bigger picture but very significant for young families who have already committed the money to reduce their debts or to cover essentials like heating their homes for the winter only to find that now they do not have the funds to meet the bills, he said.

Broderick said the bank workers' sense of injustice were compounded when Taoiseach Brian Cowen said that awards of up to €2,500 to state officials were part of an existing arrangement and would be paid.

"The same case can be made for many staff caught up in the current AIB row," he said.