Equal pay claims 'something all managers have to think about in terms of an integrated service'
An equal pay test case that opens next week in Glasgow is set to derail plans for integrated pre-five services and end substantial pay differentials between teachers and other white-collar local government workers.
Strathclyde has warned its 12 successor councils that they may have to pay up to pound;50 million in compensation if 2,000 nursery nurses join 79 heads of pre-five centres in claiming parity with nursery teachers and nursery heads.
In the case on Monday, Emily Fernie, head of Pollokshaws day nursery in Glasgow, will argue before an industrial tribunal that she is entitled to the same pay as a male headteacher doing similar work.
Strathclyde is bracing itself for defeat since the region has made strenuous efforts to integrate its pre-five services and end differences between nursery schools and centres. Sheila Cronin, head of community and special services in the new Renfrewshire authority and former head of pre-five services in Strathclyde, warned a conference on integrated services in London last week: "There is a cloud on the horizon in Scotland."
Mrs Cronin said this week: "This is something all managers have to think about in terms of an integrated service. It will have serious ramifications."
If Strathclyde's nursery nurses, who earn around pound;6,000 less than a nursery teacher, seek parity officials believe integrated services could be jeopardised.
Unison, the union backing Mrs Fernie's claim, says, however, that it has not been asked to lodge claims on behalf of nursery nurses. "Nor are we under pressure to do so. This is a paper tiger invented by Strathclyde Region," Donald Shiach, Unison's regional official, said.
Mr Shiach pointed out that cases could only go to a tribunal under equalities legislation if staff could find a male comparator. Most nursery nurses and teachers are women.
Similar cases against Strathclyde under the Equal Pay Act have been processed through lawyers acting for individuals outwith their union.
Instructors in special schools are currently waiting to hear whether a tribunal has backed their claim to be paid the same as special education teachers. During the evidence, two headteachers agreed instructors were doing similar work. Councils accept there will equally significant repercussions if the region loses.
The new unitary councils, currently considering how to organise their pre-five services, may now be forced to pre-empt tribunal cases by redrafting teachers' roles and calling an abrupt halt to integrationist policies.
Strathclyde is currently fighting eight cases under the Equal Pay Act. But it remains unclear who will take over the battle when the region is dissolved at the end of March.
* Strathclyde is to appeal to the Court of Session against the Employment Appeal Tribunal verdict, under Lord Coulsfield, to support non-principal teachers who claimed equal pay with principal teachers. More than 300 teachers have submitted claims for up to pound;20 million in back-pay.
The region says it is prepared to go to the House of Lords if it loses again.