AS Scotland's 4,500 nursery nurses prepare to embark on a series of unprecedented one-day strikes, employers' representatives have rejected allegations that they are using "stalling tactics" in crucial negotiations.
The industrial action, which could hit about 80 per cent of the country's nursery provision, has been called by Unison in support of an upgrading claim first lodged in September 2001. In a 64 per cent poll, more than 90 per cent supported action.
The claim for a salary of pound;17,000 was based on the enhanced role of nursery nurses, including additional duties and responsibilities, since their last pay review in 1988. Their average salary is pound;13,800.
Following the rejection of a national settlement on the grounds that job evaluation was a matter for individual authorities, a joint working group was set up in November.
According to Carol Ball, chairperson of Unison's nursery nurse panel, representatives from the Convention of Scottish Local Authorities took negotiations "back to square one" by reiterating their position that it was not legitimate to address a national claim.
Ms Ball described the employers' proposal to create a benchmarking post, subject it to a job evaluation and recommend the outcome to authorities as "lacking in guarantees and totally unacceptable. We need to have the job upgraded now and then an evaluation done on the basis of the regraded range of duties."
David Kennedy, spokesman for Cosla, "rejected totally" the accusation that the employers were stalling. "We are very disappointed with this course of action," Mr Kennedy said. "The timing is particularly frustrating as we believe there is still room for negotiation."
But Joe Di Paola, Unison's local government organiser, said nursery nurses had campaigned, petitioned and negotiated, culminating in the setting up of the joint working group "at the end of which the employers simply reiterated their original mantra of 18 months previously".
The strikes will start on Tuesday and a rolling programme of action will affect extended day-care provision and Scotland's 390 nurseries. It will include boycotting duties added to nursery nurses' jobs.