nursery nurses walk out


5,000 UNISON nursery nurses in the 32 Scottish local authorities have been on all-out strike since 1 March, fighting to obtain proper pay recognition for their skills and role in children's education and development. WORKERS interviewed Margaret Ferris and Les McCulloch, two stewards who visited the Midlands to raise support for their strike.

How did your fight develop to the current stage of all-out strike?
Margaret Ferris (MF): Nursery nurses' pay has not been reviewed for 16 years, yet the nature of our duties has changed greatly in the last few years without any change in pay.
The employers wanted us to wait until the Single Status Job Evaluation was carried out, but that had already been delayed and it was clear that it would take much longer to implement. We therefore put simultaneous claims by all UNISON branches to all 32 Scottish local authorities.

How did the employers react?
Les McCulloch (LM): The Convention of Scottish Local Authorities (COSLA) said it was a Scotland-wide issue and set up a technical working group to look at the claim.
MF: This group had no involvement from UNISON. When it reported you could see why.

What was their conclusion?
MF: For a very small increase in pay they expected us to work longer.
LM: At present our pay ranges from £10,000 for the least qualified to £13,800 for top qualified and experienced nursery nurses. They proposed that the top salary would go up to £14,400 at the top, but for that they wanted 2.5 hours extra a week and the yearly cover to change from 39 to 52 weeks.

How did nursery nurses react?
MF: UNISON rejected the report and balloted our members on industrial action.
LM: The action selected was one- and two-day strikes and a boycott of additional duties.
MF: It was well supported by members and the public, specially the parents.
LM: Even though it was very inconvenient for them and affected their children, they understood that properly paid nursery nurses are vital for the service.
MF: The employers did not move. They thought they would make us lose heart.

What happened next?
MF: More and more members came to the conclusion that we had to escalate the action.
LM: When the vote for indefinite strike action was taken, 81% voted in favour on a 70% ballot return.

What is your claim?
MF: Pay to increase from £10,000 to £13,800 at the bottom and from £13,800 to £18,000 at the top.
LM: The career structure is: basic grade, senior, Deputy Officer in charge, Head of Centre.

How do nursery teachers fit into this?
MF: None, as the Children's Act in Scotland repealed the requirement for nursery teachers in education nurseries. This was strongly opposed by the teachers' unions.
LM: At the same time [our] duties have increased. Now we are expected to teach phonics, take part in assessment meetings with other professionals and much more.

How did you get your collective strength?
MF: We set up Nursery Nurse Working Groups all over Scotland and built the organisation and contacts from there.

Do you have any links with nursery nurses in the rest of Britain?
LM: We used to have, particularly in the NALGO period, but they have diminished since the creation of UNISON.
MF: We would all benefit if an All Britain Nursery Nurses Organisation in UNISON were restored and active.

Contact Joe Di Paola, Scottish Organiser, for ways you can help, including donations, on 0870 7777 006 or e-mail on