An "incredibly bad idea" was how one classroom union described the Conservatives' plans to freeze teachers' pay for a year if they win the forthcoming general election.
Shadow chancellor George Osborne announced at the Conservative party conference in Manchester on Tuesday that he will freeze public sector pay across the board for all workers earning more than pound;18,000.
The freeze will not come into effect until 2011, meaning the Tories will honour the existing three-year pay deal recommended by the School Teachers' Review Board and agreed by Schools Secretary Ed Balls, which saw teachers' pay increase by 2.3 per cent in September.
Only unqualified teachers and teaching assistants will be exempt from the pay freeze which, it is hoped, will go some way to reduce the pound;175 billion budget deficit.
Speaking at the conference, Mr Osborne said that at a time of crisis there is an "inevitable and difficult trade-off between securing jobs and restraining pay".
"No one should pick on public sector workers," he said. "I will not ask them to make any sacrifice or shoulder any burden that the rest of Britain is not already being asked to make."
And he added that by looking at the nation's finances, it was clear that "whoever wins the election is going to have to ask from 2011 each part of the public sector to accept a one-year pay freeze".
NUT general secretary Christine Blower said teachers had been catching up in terms of pay in the past 10 years, but claimed that a pay freeze of this kind would put people off choosing a career in the teaching profession.
"It's an incredibly bad idea, especially when we are supposed to be attracting the brightest and the best into the profession," Ms Blower said. "(Shadow schools secretary) Michael Gove has admitted that there needs to be smaller class sizes if we are to improve standards, and that means we need to accelerate the number of people coming into teaching. This will be a major factor in preventing that."
According to the Conservatives, the freeze in pay will be "equivalent to saving 100,000 public sector jobs" and will enable Mr Gove to avoid "going down the road of Mr Balls, cutting senior posts in order to make the books balance", as he writes in The TES this week (page 38).
But Chris Keates, general secretary of the NASUWT, believes that the Tories can give no guarantees of job security.
"Teachers and public service workers will be dismayed by the shadow chancellor's comments," she said. "The proposal for freezing pay levels cannot be backed by any guarantee of future job security, so public service workers could face a double whammy of pay freeze and job loss."
She added: "The shadow chancellor says that the better-off must take their share of the pain, yet he fails to make any concrete plans with regard to the bankers and their bonuses, which were a major contributory factor to the current recession. Public service workers and the community will pay the price for reckless bankers."
Responding to the unions, a Conservative spokesman said: "A pay freeze is the best way to protect jobs. And we are protecting the low paid. This is a fair solution to our huge problems. Anyone who says we can avoid these tough choices is not telling the truth."
`We've had it cushy so far'.
"Resigned. Whatever government is voted in in 2010, there will be a pay freeze. New Labour has got our country into a real financial mess. The recession is over, apparently. Not in my neck of the woods. House prices continue to fall and unemployment is increasing in East Anglia."
"The problem is, the debt is due to be repaid; the recession is actually almost an irrelevance here. We have no choice about repaying this debt. The only reason the pound isn't hammered to kingdom come is the markets think the Tories will repay it in 2010. If they thought Brown would get in with his avoidancedodgingprinting money method, the pound wouldn't be worth a lira."
"This is a vote winner. As a private-school teacher, I am fed up with my taxes being used to fund salary hikes for groaning, moaning, state-school teachers. We work harder and longer in the private sector, and it's about time that the gap between private and state sector teachers widened a lot."
"I'm delighted, as there has just been a guilty shuffle back to Labour amongst those public sector workers who were tired of Gordon and had begun to imagine Cameron might have something to offer that they would like."
"Compared to workers in private companies (the majority, not the people at the top), we in the public sector have had it cushy during this recession. I don't mind a pay freeze, to be honest, as long as I don't lose my job. We've got to accept part of the pain as well if we want the economy to recover."