NURSERY nurses' campaign for higher pay, backed by damaging industrial action, will be reinforced by the revelation that three years ago ministers' representatives and local authority leaders agreed that school support staff should be paid an average of pound;15,000 a year.
It is alleged that the post-McCrone subgroup on support staff accepted that classroom assistants and, by implication, nursery nurses, should be paid far more. An average salary for a nursery nurse is between pound;11,000 and pound;12,000.
On the eve of the Educational Institute of Scotland conference in Perth, John Patton, former union president, who chaired the subgroup, said: "I find it disappointing that a figure of pound;15,000 was agreed on as an average salary for support staff three years ago and that nursery nurses are still struggling to come anywhere near this aspiration."
Mr Patton, a retired primary headteacher, said that the unpublished figure was accepted by the Scottish Executive, local authorities and teachers'
unions as a fair salary for key workers and agreed by the post-McCrone implementation group. He claims officials then calculated the costs and built that into the pound;800 million post-McCrone settlement. The agreement pledged that by March next year another 3,500 support staff would be in post to give teachers more time to teach.
Mr Patton said that the pound;15,000 salary could be used as a "yardstick" for nursery staff, who often carry out complex tasks.
The Convention of Scottish Local Authorities denies all knowledge of the figure.
Joe di Paola, Unison's Scottish organiser, said: "This is a bombshell and I am absolutely shocked. We have been trying to get a decent increase for nursery nurses for two years and we met employers this week and were told that there is no money to pay them.
"There was clearly money three years ago and I want to know where the money went in that settlement. Why did nothing ever happen?"
Unison represents nearly 5,000 nursery nurses in Scotland - eight out of 10 - and is pressing for salaries of up to pound;18,000 with a promoted structure beyond that. After eight years, the maximum a nursery nurse can earn is currently pound;13,800. Most are around pound;4,000 adrift of the recommended average salary apparently proposed by the post-McCrone leaders who now claim their coffers are empty.
The union argues that its members have had 15 years of increasing duties and is to continue a series of one-day strikes.
It accuses Cosla of stalling on an improved pay deal by demanding a full job evaluation exercise which would lead to regrading and a more developed career structure.