Toronto's labour relations committee has issued a mandate to its negotiators as they head into crucial talks with the city workers that one city councillor calls "extreme."

Tensions between the city and its two major unions — CUPE 416 which represents about 6,000 outside workers and CUPE 79 which represents about 23,000 inside workers — have been rising ever since their contracts expired at the end of 2011.

A strike or a lockout could come in early February, some predict.

The labour relations committee, chaired by deputy mayor Doug Holyday, met Thursday to take stock of the negotiations and to issue new instructions. The terms and language of the mandate are confidential, but Coun. Janet Davis said she doesn't believe it will lead to a negotiated settlement.

"I think this is quite an extreme mandate that we haven't seen in the city before," she said.

Fletcher wouldn't reveal any of the details but did say that she was "concerned" that "it doesn't reflect what the majority of council would want or the public would want" when it comes to negotiating a settlement with city workers.