Angry delegates at the annual meeting of the Irish Nurses and Midwives Organisation (INMO) sent a clear signal to the Government ahead of the talks on public service pay that they want parity with other graduate entry grades.
They unanimously passed an emergency motion calling for pay parity, saying stark differences have emerged with other public servants such as teachers.
After 15 years a nurse is earning €43,800, while a teacher will be on €55,710 following recent agreements.
Nurses also say that some hospital cleaners are earning more than them, as they warn of all-out strike if their pay demands are not met.
reports that Sean Kelly, of the INMO Mullingar branch, said: "There are people cleaning floors earning more than me."
Mr Kelly said: "Nurses, no matter how recently qualified, deserve to be paid no less than any healthcare assistant or multi-task assistant at the top scale of their pay.
"I work in an emergency department and I am four years qualified. There are people cleaning floors earning more money than me.
"I am not saying they do not deserve to be paid €19 per hour. They do. They work really, really hard.
"But I deserve to be paid more than that."
Mary Leahy, who is on the executive council, said nurses were on wages that were 12pc to 15pc lower than other healthcare colleagues with equivalent qualifications.
Delegates spoke of burnout and having to work in an environment where staffing shortages led to patient risk. One nurse could be looking after 12 patients.
"Soon we will have to take patients home," quipped one nurse.
Phil Ni Sheaghdha, the union's director of industrial relations, said the purchasing power of Irish nurses, based on their salaries, was the worst of eight countries. The highest in the league were nurses in Canada, followed by those in the USA and Australia.
Addressing the delegates, the union's general secretary Liam Doran said: "If there is any doubt on the part of the Government or colleague unions as to what the INMO will seek in these talks, let us be quite clear: we want our money back.
"Secondly, and this is where the struggle may begin, the parity claim has to be progressed as part of these talks."
The Government has had it its way for too long, he added.
He urged the delegates to "be prepared".
Nurses rose to their feet and applauded as he said: "If the call comes, we will do whatever is needed."
The meeting was told that the premium pay for nurses working between 6pm and 8pm was restored in January and it will be retrospective to January 2016 for nurses in acute hospitals.
Arbitration has now extended this to nurses in care of the elderly, intellectual disability and primary care.