Taoiseach Enda Kenny has opened the door for Government and unions to create a new form of social partnership on workers' rights.
In an address to the Irish Congress of Trade Unions conference in Killarney, the Taoiseach insisted old style pay talks are not on the agenda.
But he suggested that there was no reason negotiations, which collapsed in 2009 after 21 years, could not be revived in a new format.
"It may be that formal social partnership agreements are not appropriate at this time," he said.
"But I recognise that social partnership is a status which derives, not from formal agreements, but from the role played by key interests in civil society, including the trade unions.
"That is a valuable European tradition and I will uphold it."
Pay agreements for low earners, the banking crisis and job creation will be top of the agenda for the 800 trade unionists attending the conference.
Congress insiders said general secretary David Begg would tackle the Taoiseach on the controversial issue of pay cuts for low earners in sectors such as hospitality and security.
The Government is examining ways to rewrite wage contracts known as Joint Labour Committees, including Sunday premium rates, and Employment Regulation Orders and Registered Employment Agreements.
The Taoiseach attempted to ease fears that the low-paid were being targeted.