Walkout threat hits nurseries

4th May 2001 at 01:00
Union demands for a review of pay and hours may lead to industrial action, reports John Cairney.

Scotland's nursery schools face disruption as the result of a campaign to increase the status and pay of "overworked and overlooked" nursery nurses. Unison,the public sector union which represents many of them, wants the sector to have a McCrone-style review.

Matt Smith, Unison's Scottish secretary, stated in a letter to Jack McConnell, Education Minister: "Nursery nurses have not been regraded for 12 years and our members feel undervalued and underpaid. They are committed to early years education and child care and are well- trained individuals who want to develop within a careers structure which reflects their expertise."

Nicol Stephen, Deputy Education Minister, told the Scottish Parliament last month that there were "no plans to initiate a review", but Carol Ball, who chairs Unison's national nursery nurse working party, warned: "If the issues are not addressed satisfactorily, the union will consider appropriate action." Unison wants a national scheme of conditions based on a common job description, a 35-hour week, 52-week year and a salary range of pound;16,173 to pound;20,397.

At present nursery nurses who are employed in schools have a 32.5-hour week, earning between pound;10,179 and pound;12,861, while those who work in extended daycare centres work a 38-hour week on a salary scale of pound;12,105 to pound;14,889.

Under the proposed scheme all nursery nurses would work a maximum of 35 hours, Ms Ball said. "Those presently working 32.5 hours would retain their conditions. Though the scheme s based on a 52-week year, if people have a reduced year, this would be reflected in their salary. What it means is that every nursery nurse would be on the same hourly rate."

She says that the Executive should have looked at the structure of early years education before coming up with its many initiatives."Before the Government embarked on putting extra money into early years, why did they not review current practices? Why didn't they identify who was actually carrying out the work? It is our view that the bulk of the work is being carried out by our members."

She called for standardised pay rates. "A national childcare strategy requires national pay scales."

Evelyn Watson, a nursery nurse in Buchlyvie nursery school in Glasgow's Easterhouse, predicted widespread support for the regrading campaign because nursery nurses felt "undervalued and underpaid".

She said: "There is a lack of understanding of what our role is. I have 19 years' experience working in nurseries and the job has changed dramatically in recent years due to frequent Government initiatives, for example in the field of literacy."

Aileen Scullion, headteacher at Buchlyvie and a long-time Educational Institute of Scotland activist on pre-five issues, expressed "unreserved support" for the demands. "Recent initiatives in early years education have led to increasing demands on nursery nurses, particularly in relation to the range of tasks expected of them," she said.

The Unison campaign will kick off on May 19 with a march and rally in Glasgow to coincide with National Childcare Week.

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