Anger flares in nursery pay dispute
THE bitter dispute involving Scotland’s 5,000 nursery nurses exploded yesterday, as local authorities launched an unprecedented attack on the workers’ union, accusing it of disrupting the lives of parents and children.
In a leaked report passed to The Scotsman, COSLA, the umbrella organisation for councils, says the pay demands made by Unison, the public services union, are "blatantly unfair".
The document, which was prepared for a meeting of council leaders today, says the union’s action is disrupting the lives of children and parents across the country, and it calls on local authorities to adopt a much more hard-hitting public strategy over the strike to address the "misinformation" coming from the trade union.
Parents and children across Scotland are facing chaos after nursery nurses voted by 81 per cent to take indefinite strike action over pay last week. The vote moves the campaign of one-off strikes, which have been taking place over the past ten months, on to a much more serious footing. Nurseries across Scotland could now be closed from next month, with parents being forced to make alternative childcare arrangements. Those children who are due to start school in August will be particularly hit because they will miss out on vital preparation work.
There have also been concerns that youngsters with special educational needs will be badly affected, although unions have pledged that no vulnerable children will be adversely hit.
The leaked report states: "This dispute is really about Unison wanting nursery nurses working 39 weeks a year to be paid the same as nursery nurses working 52 weeks a year regardless of the nature of the work they are actually doing - that is blatantly unfair.
"It seems to be that Unison move the goalposts in relation to what they are looking for and different figures are bandied about very day.
"If Unison has a problem with what is on offer from any one council then the way to resolve that is to get round the table with that council - not disrupt the lives of children and parents across the country."
The document concludes that the coming months could "potentially be a very difficult time in terms of our relationship with the trade unions and the public, particularly parents of children affected by the action".
A spokesman for COSLA refused to comment on the report last night, but insisted that the door was still open to negotiations with the union side.
"We want to get this settled, but it is also important that we make our case clear to the public," he added.
However, Unison dismissed the comments from the local authority organisation as "nonsense".
Carol Ball, the chairwoman of Unison’s nursery nurse working party, said: "This document sounds as though COSLA is still trying to disguise their obduracy and hide behind some inflammatory language when they should be trying to find a solution. COSLA know very well that the original nursery nurses’ claim recognised the difference between 52-week and 39-week working staff.
"We suggested that those working fewer weeks be paid pro-rata, to reflect that difference, whilst retaining their current full-time status.
"The risk is that COSLA’s constant refusal to negotiate will cause the major disruption of all-out action."
Mrs Ball added that the nursery nurses had "changed no figures and moved no goalposts".
She said: "The claim we started with is the one we have now. It would mean that nursery nurses who currently start on a basic of 10,000 would start on 14,000 at the bottom of the scale."
The stand-off stems from Unison’s rejection last week of a new pay deal for nursery nurses that guaranteed a top-grade salary of 18,000.
The deal was rejected because it was only on offer to the minority of staff who work 52 weeks a year.
Union negotiators have been seeking a minimum salary of 18,000 for the majority of nursery nurses who work in school terms, rising to 21,000 for a promoted post.
Nursery nurses say their salaries have fallen behind other workers’, with wages starting at only 10,000 and rising after eight years to 13,890.
COSLA and the Scottish Executive had urged the union negotiators to get round the table with individual councils to solve the dispute.
However, Unison insists a national agreement is the only way to progress the dispute.
Union officials will be meeting representatives of the nursery nurses tomorrow to decide when strike action will take place and how it will be implemented.
If agreement is then reached, indefinite strike action across Scotland could begin in just over a week.
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