Simon Harris has defended the cut in pay
Health Minister Simon Harris has defended the decision to cut pay rates for locum doctors.
It has led to some of them not showing up for work this week, and there are fears this could lead to the closure of some hospital emergency departments.
Locum staff are unhappy their pay has been cut from €40 to €34 an hour.
The areas affected include Navan, Naas, Limerick, Portlaoise and Dublin.
Locum workers are freelance or agency staff who are called in to work in hospitals.
The Irish Association of Emergency Medicine expects the action to spread to other hospitals and is warning patients will be affected.
It says it is concerned that a number of emergency departments around the country "have been left very short of key medical staff" as a result of the implementation of a HSE directive intended to cap the pay of locum doctors.
The directive took effect on September 1st.
The association claims this has resulted in "significant pay cuts for the affected doctors".
The association adds that its concerns are based "on the safety implications of rosters that are missing doctors which puts at risk the safety of patients attending (emergency departments)".
Minister Harris says: "It's absolutely vital that our patients do not become pawns in relation to a dispute over pay.
"Doctors and nurses pay in this country is actually rising.
"This is not a pay dispute in terms of how much we pay doctors or nurses: this is about how much an agency is paid, and the fees that that agency then pays.
"It is important, though, that we encourage people to work directly for the Health Service because as we know we are too reliant on locum cover in this country.
"We know that we have a situation in this country where the pay difference between agency staff and people working directly for the HSE is very large and quite unfair.
"You have a situation where you could have a doctor who works for the HSE, similarly qualified and doing the same work, working alongside a locum doctor - and that locum doctor, even after the changes of the framework, would be earning 36% more than them".
Spokesman for the Irish Association of Emergency Medicine, Fergal Hickey, told Newstalk Breakfast earlier: "We should only be using locum staff to cover unforeseen circumstances - sick leave, bereavement leave or some such - but instead we have a system which is entirely dependent in many hospitals on locum staff and that is fundamentally wrong.
"That is a matter for the HSE to fix, and they failed to fix it.
"Instead they bring in, at short notice, a change in the way things are done without doing any risk assessment.
"So we have a situation where they would have thought that this was going to have no impact - or if they did think it was going to have an impact, they didn't seem to care much about the impact.
"And yet, potentially, a number of emergency departments will close".