More smoke than fire

5th March 2004 at 00:00
The strike by Scotland's nursery nurses has been a long time coming.

Whatever the rights and wrongs, it is remarkable that the dispute has been allowed to fester for two years. Perhaps this has to do with the touchy-feely aura that surrounds nursery nurses, which makes it difficult to criticise their claim. Certainly local authorities have not taken the customary robust line, concentrating on criticising the tactics of Unison rather than the worth of the nurses - although there are signs now that they are becoming more proactive.

As in any dispute, there is no doubt much blame to be apportioned to both sides. Unison has had the better run of publicity to date, as is to be expected when the focus is on a group of low-paid, largely female staff.

But the stark truth is that it is the union that is facing the uphill struggle. As we report this week (page five), there is no prospect of the employers conceding a national agreement, especially when Unison put its name to a document stipulating that pay and regrading would be matters for local resolution. And, while Unison argues that the job evaluations carried out by the authorities were "deeply flawed", its case is rather undermined since it was offered the chance to influence the outcome and declined.

But the fact that a third of Scotland's local authorities have settled or are close to doing so is the major problem facing Unison. If the union's local branches are, however reluctantly, signing up to deals based on what the union dismisses as a flawed national framework, it is difficult to see what the dispute is really about.

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