The GMB wants more than £4 an hour for the 350,000 local government workers currently paid below this level.
Unison's claim for a £1,000 increase across the board would bring the lowest scale point to just less than £4 an hour.
On the table is a proposal to address low pay and merge the manual and white-collar pay scales. If both sides agree, scales could be merged in 1997, after a comprehensive job evaluation.
An agreement on scales as part of the pay deal would mean a change in union policy, which has to date been to keep negotiations on single status and pay separate.
Unions do not want the cost of single status to limit wage increases.
Employers' representatives were told in consultation with councils on this year's settlement that a pay-scale merger was acceptable if it was costed in the pay settlement.
Employers' secretary Charles Nolda said changes to scales was one of a number of options due to be considered this week. 'The situation is far too complex and far to sensitive to comment on,' he added.
It is understood there are three options: a simple percentage increase; a percentage increase with a lump sum; and a percentage with merged scales.
CIPFA chief economist Chris Trinder said merging the scales was attractive to employers because 'rather than upping the overall figure they might want to do a deal on the low paid'.
T&GW national secretary Jack Dromey warned there would be a 'pay explosion if this year once again the cost of living outstrips pay'.
-- The teachers' pay award, announced last week, is worth 3% in 1996-97. Their overall pay increase is 3.75% - £395m. It will be staggered, with 2.75% from April and 1% from December.
Labour has published figures showing 74 of 119 councils it surveyed will be worse off than last year because of the teachers' pay award.