The High Court in Dublin will rule after Easter on whether the Joint Labour Committee system of setting wages for workers in the catering sector is unconstitutional or not.
The cahllenge has been lodged by the Quick Service Food alliance which represents a number of fast food and restaurant outlets - it is challenging the constitutionality of the system.
If the challenge succeeds, and the JLC system is struck down, it could trigger cuts in pay and conditions for hundreds of thousands of lower paid workers in sectors ranging from catering to hairdressing to mushroom picking. The High Court heard from University of Limerick Lecturer Dr Michelle O'Sullivan who has done extensive research into the Joint Labour Committee system.
Dr O'Sullivan said that CSO figures found that the accommodation and hospitality sector had the lowest average earnings and unionisation rate.
She said an analysis of wage rates had shown that the majority of wage rates for workers covered by JLCs only exceeded the national minimum wage by less than 10%.
Dr O'Sullivan said that the majority of those involved in dealing with the JLCs - including the Labour Court, Labour Relations Commission and unions - favored retention of the system.
About two thirds of employers opposed them, saying sufficient protection for workers already existed in legislation covering the national minimum wage and working time restrictions.