Unions have submitted their members' annual pay claim
Highland Council workers look set to be asked to take a pay freeze to protect their jobs.
Budget leader David Alston said limited settlements over three years to achieve the equivalent of a one year pay freeze would save up to £8m.
His comments follow the government's announcement that councils are to receive nearly £12bn next year.
Shane Manning, Unison's Highland branch officer, said the suggestion that staff take a pay cut was "frightening".
Mr Alston call for pay restraint also follows three unions representing Scotland's council workers submitting their annual pay claim.
The unions - Unison, Unite and the GMB - which represent 150,000 council workers in Scotland, are seeking an above-inflation pay rise of 3%.
They also want the lowest paid workers to get even more, so their pay would rise by a total of £600.
The councils, which are facing budget cutbacks, will make their formal response to the claim in January.
Mr Alston said: "We would hope to see either a pay freeze or the equivalent of a pay freeze in restraining pay settlements over the next two to three years.
"I think it is reasonable to do that, not least because a pay freeze helps to protect jobs."
Mr Manning said workers were facing difficult times.
He said: "To ask them to take a cut in pay is not reasonable especially when they have already agreed settlements for the chief officials."
Finance Secretary John Swinney said the £12bn to shared out among council's would have been £174m higher were it not for a funding cut of £500m.
He said the cut was "imposed on the Scottish budget by the UK government".