10th Anniversary of Nursery Nurse Dispute 2003-2004
3 May 2014:
On 31 May it will be 10 years since nursery nurses in Edinburgh returned to work after a year-long dispute culminating in 11 weeks of all out strike – the longest strike in Scotland since the miners’ strike.
It may not be surprising for a largely women dominated profession that nursery nurse pay had not been reviewed for 15 years, and they had been waiting 18 months for a response on their claim.
They had mounted demonstrations, submitted a 20,000 signature petition to the Scottish Parliament and lobbied parents, councillors and MSPs. With no response their patience ran out and they balloted for action. The first strike in Edinburgh was on 21 May 2003.
They started with strikes co-ordinated in different areas across Scotland in a rolling programme to seek a national settlement that would address the pitifully low pay and pitifully low value councils afforded these workers.
But more than that, it was also about dedication to the children they served and a real commitment to the future of early years care and education delivered by properly trained and supported professionals.
In 2004, the action culminated in 11 weeks of all out strike with some of the most imaginative events ever seen in a dispute to keep the fight in the public eye.
Strikers from Fife and the Lothians marched to cross borders and meet in the middle of the Forth Road Bridge to show the absurdity of CoSLA’s insistence on local deals instead of a national settlement.
On the 90th anniversary of Ethel Moorhead’s force feeding in Calton jail, nursery nurses dressed as suffragettes and paper-chained themselves to the First Minister’s residence.
They mounted a rally to both of 'Edinburgh's Disgraces' by lobbying the Council to expose the local offer as a 'disgrace' then marched to 'Edinburgh's Disgrace' monument on Calton Hill to release hundreds of balloons with meticulous military precision and signalled by Barbara Foubister’s famous whistle.
And the one I love most. When CoSLA refused to come to the table for national negotiations, thousands of nursery nurses and supporters marched through Edinburgh carrying the table to CoSLA and setting it up outside the organisation’s front door.
And when the media attacked them, the nursery nurses turned up at the door of the Evening News and demanded the journalists account for themselves! We should maybe do more of that!
But unfortunately, branches started to settle locally. Glasgow and Edinburgh held out but eventually the central strike committee had to recognise the reality and gave the go ahead for local settlements.
In Edinburgh, after 12 hours at ACAS, we got a deal that didn’t deliver all we wanted but it did deliver rises of up to 10 salary points – almost inconceivable these days – thousands in lump sum payments and a career structure.
Nationally it also delivered a Scottish Government review of early years.
It was a fantastic dispute, run with dignity in the face of politically motivated attacks by some parents in Edinburgh and run with some real imagination. Most of all, the strikers got fully involved in, and made sure they controlled, their own dispute.
The action changed the face of early years work and the importance of the role of nursery nurses across Scotland.
See the links below and on the right for the archive of the dispute.
Nursery Nurses are the largest
single professional group delivering education
to Scotland's children - we want their pay to
reflect the importance of the job they do.
nursery nurses highly enough', branch secretary
28 May 2004: "Nursery nurses have been an example to
every other trade unionist throughout this dispute
with their good nature, solid organisation and
real commitment to the future of early years
care and education.
They have achieved a 10 point pay rise, a substantial
lump sum and one in three can go on to higher
grades. That is the best I have seen achieved
by any group in the last 20 years.
It is a disgrace that the council could not
recognise that just one more pay point would
have sent people back with confidence in their
council. But now the bad taste will stay with
nursery nurses for a long time.
In addition to the comments I have made in
the press release, I would like to record my
thanks for the dignity and support shown by
the nursery nurses. Sometimes that has felt
wonderful and sometimes it has felt worrying
as we failed to achieve for them what we would
That dignity and unity shone through today.
I was extremely moved by the gift the nursery
nurse meeting gave me and the expressions of
goodwill inside and outside the meeting. Just
one more example of how this group of workers,
far from thinking of themselves, have gone through
this dispute thinking of others - not least
the children they serve. There are not many
in this whole saga that can say that.
We are making arrangements to meet again to
finalise outstanding issues and to have a social
and some fun at last.
To all nursery nurses who stuck so solidly
together and who worked so hard with such dignity
- you have done so much for the future of your
service and thanks from all the branch officers,
stewards and staff."
nursery nurses to be balloted on revised offer
from questions raised at 20 May meeting
Secretary's briefing on the ACAS talks on
- Friday 28 May:
Nursery Nurses Meeting 11.00 Augustine Church
George IV Bridge (opposite UNISON Office)
May: Nursery nurses reject offer in ballot
May: Big councils prolong nursery dispute
with low pay offers - UNISON Scotland Press
- 4 May: After meeting with council
officials, John Stevenson (Branch Secretary)
said, "We made absolutely no progress. We
put forward a number of proposals we felt
would allow them to reallocate the money within
their budget and with only just a little bit
extra reach an offer that we might have been
able to get a settlement on. But they have
just made the same offer which has already
been rejected without any significant change.
They seem unwilling to negotiate sensibly
(or 'like adults' as the Council's chief 'negotiator'
keeps telling us)". We now have to alternative
but to extend the action to ballot because
the Council has buried its head in the sand
and does not believe that nursery nurses will
reject this offer.
- Come to the meeting on Friday 7 May 12.30
Old Royal High School, Regent Road for updates.
- 26 April: Edinburgh nursery nurses
reject final offer from Council. Offer
lower than Midlothian, Dundee, East Dunbartonshire,
Falkirk etc. Amounts to 7 - 8% not 19% as
Evening news says. Strike continues, meeting
being sought with management and national
nursery nurses meeting to be held on 30 April.
Problem of different rates in different councils
demonstrates the problem of councils not coming
to national settlement.
26 APRIL, DETAILS:
21 April: Nursery nurses to investigate local
deals in attempt to break the deadlock - UNISON
Scotland and UNISON City of Edinburgh Branch
- Dunfermline Rally 21 April: 11.30 leaving
Carnegie Hall walking to Pittencrieff Park.
Edinburgh to Dunfermline - Return Daysaver
Rail Fare £4 Train time leaves Edinburgh
10.20 arrives 10.50 Return train times
14.05 arrives 14.37 14.35 arrives 15.07. See
you all there. Gill Walker
- 19 April: Written details of current situation
(verbally reported to nursery nurse meeting)
will be circulated to members in a few days.
Details of what employers may have on offer
going to meeting of Scottish branches on 20
- 13 April - New
Ayr picture in gallery
April: Nursery Nurses - UNISON Scotland Press
- 8 April: Bus for Ayr Demo 13 April - Bus
leaves George IV Bridge Edinburgh at 09.30am
April: Nursery CoSLA talks 'useful'
April - No local negotiations
April Nursery Nurses bulletin and meeting
march and rally 13 April details
Nurse Meeting Mon 5 April 11.00, St Cuthberts
- 1 April 04: Despite rumours in the
press, UNISONScotland wants all nursery nurses
to know that "We have had no talks this morning
about nursery nurses. However we have received
the offer of a meeting from CoSLA and we will
take up the offer as soon as it can be arranged."
- 31 March:
NURSERY NURSES MARK SUFFRAGETTE ANNIVERSARY
WITH CHARLOTTE SQUARE VIGIL
- 30 March: Comment
from UNISON on the First Minister's comments
on the Nursery Nurses dispute - 30/3/04
Mar: Nursery Nurses - If CoSLA won't come
to the table...? (UNISONScotland press release)
Mar: Nursery Nurses - UNISON accepts councils'
invitation (UNISON Scotland Press release)
- 25 Mar: Meeting
votes to continue for national settlement
a letter to CoSLA - Nursery
Nurse Demo and Rally Edinburgh, Monday 29
March 2004 Assemble 12 noon
Mar: 7 Councils statement - UNISON Response
Mar: Nursery nurses go Forth to cross boundaries
-even if CoSLA doesn't want their pay to!
(UNISONScotland Press release!
- 17 Mar: NEW
Events on 18, 19 and 23 March - full details
- 11 Mar: UNISON
urges CoSLA to take up Parliament call for
negotiations (UNISON Scotland press release)
Mar: Nursery Nurses reject local deal and
rally to both of 'Edinburgh's Disgraces'
Mar: Nursery Nurse demo to call for Scottish
Executive intervention (UNISON Scotland press
Mar 04: Nursery Nurse Strike starts (UNISONScotland
press release) - See also Latest
- 1 March 04:
UNISON slams Edinburgh 'del boy' offer as
nursery strike starts
- ADOPT A NURSERY NURSE
- dig deep and make sure they are not starved
Feb: Branch leaflet ready to use (pdf format)
Print out and copy double sided.
Feb: Why we are on strike leaflet ready to
use (Scotland site)
- 27 Feb: Statement
Feb: Nursery nurses action to start on I March
Feb: Nursery nurses register massive vote
against low pay - UNISON Scotland Press
Feb: Days of action hit nurseries as UNISON
calls for CoSLA to negotiate (Scottish press
- 3 Feb 04:
Council must 'put up or shut up' on Nursery
- Strike action Scotland-wide 4 and 10 February.
More details to follow re local events.
- BALLOT PAPERS: for the next round of action
will be issued from 2 February and ballot
closes 13 February. If any involved member
does not get a ballot paper by 5 February
contact the Branch Office on 0131 220 5655
Jan: Nursery nurses to ballot on all-out strike
(UNISON Scotland press release)
Briefing on Nursery Nurses - The need for
a Scottish solution
reasons for council to listen to nursery nurses
and nursery nurses join forces to confront
CoSLA - Scottish UNISON leader to address
- 4 Dec: Nursery
nurse dispute - UNISON condemns employers
misinformation (UNISON Scotland press
release) 120 nursery nurses in Edinburgh on
strike week beginning 1 December with other
councils across Scotland.
Dec: UNISON condemns Glasgow Council: "Stop
playing games and get back to CoSLA to open
Nov: Scottish action plans for December (UNISONScotland
Nov: New nursery nurse action seeks to push
Scottish employers back to table
- 6 Oct: Events this
week in Edinburgh
- 1 Oct: Letter
to parents underlines that for most nursery
nurses, the offer gives extra hours but NO
rise at all!
- 1 Oct: No progress in local talks on national
offer. Written response awaited from council.
- 1 Oct: Nursery
nurse talks at risk from councillor's letter
- 26 Sept: New round of action starts
with week's strike in Edinburgh from 6 October.
Nursery nurses to meet on Tuesday 30 September
for briefing. Other cities will follow with
similar strikes over the next month.
- 26 Sept: Edinburgh Talks: Following
a request from the Council, UNISON has agreed
to meet Edinburgh officials but only on the
basis of trying to find a solution to the
national claim and CoSLA's unacceptable 'recommendations'.
UNISON will be asking the Council to use its
leading role to break the log-jamb. We will
NOT be discussing a local deal under the rejected
nurses dispute Scottish Parliament online
to coincide with Carolyn Leckie MSP's members
business debate on the subject in parliament
on Wed 24 Sept. You can view the forum
Latest Nursery Nurse Briefing
Sep Nursery Nurses Rally in Edinburgh as
Scotland-wide strikes take effect (UNISON
Scptland Press Release) PLUS
Sept: Rally to launch further nursery action
as employers 'offer' a sham (UNISON Scotland
- 12 Sept: Fury as no offer made (check
here for updates)
- Edinburgh branch furious that no national
offer was made by CoSLA. Issue put out to
local negotiations.Councils don't have to
implement. "I have rarely heard union
officials so angry at the employers' discrediting
the national bargaining machinery", John
Stevenson, Branch Secretary.
- 12 Sept: Check
here on UNISONScotland site for updates on
today's talks as soon as known
- 11 Sept: UNISON
challenges Council to be 'straight with staff'
and 'honest with nursery nurses'
- 10 Sept pm: Edinburgh
Rally on 17 September - details
Sept pm: Nursery Nurses condemn 'misleading'
Sept: UNISON Scotland Press Release: Rally
to support nursery nurses
- 7 September: CoSLA
offer to be made formally on 12 September
(not 8 Sept as orginially published) - Action
week 8 September cancelled - New action in
Edinburgh 17 and 18 September with rally on
17th - click here for more details and posters
to print out for Glasgow Rally on 13th.
Aug: UNISON says Employers' investigation
into Nursery Nurses is flawed.
June Demo brings national support
Nurses strikes go into fourth week
Demo Glasgow 24 June 1pm Blythswood Square
- National Speakers: Click here for a poster
to print out, copy and circulate (adobe pdf).
you do not have adobe acrobat, click here
to get it free)
movement in nursery talks
calls for movement in nursery talks- 1 June
Press Release (UNISON Scotland)
TV News covers 'Fun Bus' lobby
- 29 May:
Nursery Nurses to lobby CoSLA
- 26 May:
Nursery nurse strike action to target Edinburgh,
Lothians and Borders
- 'If you
mean what you say, then let's have talks'
nursery nurses tell council
- Huge support for Edinburgh's
nursery nurses on first strike day
starts in Edinburgh with rally (21 May press
- Action in Edinburgh
- Our message
to the public
- Background to the
Scotland site with news from around Scotland
and full details of the claim, questions and
There will be a rolling programme
of strikes from 20 May. Edinburgh will be on
strike on Wed 21 and Thur 22 May
Tuesday 20 May and Wednesday
21 May - East Ayrshire, South Ayrshire,
North Ayrshire, Inverclyde, Dumfries and Galloway,
Glasgow City, Renfrewshire, East Renfrewshire,
East and West Dunbartonshire, North Lanarkshire,
Shetland and Orkney.
On Wednesday 21 May they
will be joined by colleagues in Edinburgh,
East-, Mid- and West Lothian, Borders, Fife,
Stirling, Falkirk, Perth & Kinross and Dundee.
These branches will also be on strike on
Thursday 22 May.
Branches also striking on Wednesday 21 May
alone will be Aberdeenshire, Angus, Argyll &
Bute, Clackmannanshire, Highland, South Lanarkshire,
Moray and the Western Isles.
Extra duties that will be boycotted include
observation, recording assessment and evaluation
processes, planning and development tasks, student
training, all work outwith normal working hours,
and all clerical, janitorial and cleaning tasks.
Huge support for Edinburgh's nursery nurses
on first strike day
Parents and other Council colleagues joined
hundreds of nursery nurses in a demonstration
at Edinburgh's City Chambers today 21 May. Support
also came from nursery nurses from Glasgow and
Joe Di Paola, UNISON's Scottish Local Government
Organiser, told the demonstration"Despite press
calls from CoSLA for us to get back round the
table," He said "We have had no letters, phone
calls or any other contact offering talks. We
condemn such megaphone negotiations and suggest
that if they seriously want to resolve this
issue, rather than crying crocodile tears over
disruption they take action to settle the dispute."
Barbara Foubister, Branch Chair and a nursery
nurse herself thanked members for the turnout
and outlined plans for the dispute. "We
thank everyone who has turned out and it shows
just how united nursery nurses are in fighting
for a long overdue settlement", she said.
Branch Secretary John Stevenson recalled that
he and Barbara had seen several attempts to
get 'Justice for the Nursery Nurse' over the
last 15 years. "The public are behind you",
he told the members, "especially when they
here how low your pay is - but also because
you have worked closely with parents".
Elizabeth Hunter, a Fife nursery nurse, was
warmly welcomed. "We've accepted things
for too long but we're not accepting it now
- we want it sorted", she said to loud
Parents joined nursery nurses on picket lines
across the city. The action continues tomorrow
before a return to work on Friday - then a further
series of strikes will be announced.
Background to the claim
"The ballot result fully shows the strength
of feeling amongst nursery nurses." Said Agnes
Petkevicius, Nursery Nurse and Edinburgh UNISON
Service Conditions Officer.
"Our pay has not been reviewed for 15 years,
and our claim was submitted over 18 months ago.
We have had a number of demonstrations of public
support, submitted a 20,000 signature petition
to the Scottish Parliament and lobbied parents,
councillors and MSP's. After the latest employers
rejection nursery nurses feel they have no choice
but to take industrial action, to highlight
our determination to achieve fair pay and address
inequalities in our treatment"
Nursery Nurses will be taking a mixture of
strike action and a boycott of duties added
to the job over the years that have not been
recognised. The campaign will start on 20 May
with a rolling programme of action. This programme
will incorporate both local and Scotland-wide
action co-ordinated over a six week period by
the union. The action will mean the closure
of Scotland's nurseries and nursery schools
on strike days, and disruption of the overall
Joe Di Paola, UNISON's Scottish Organiser for
Local Government, says that parents have been
very supportive, and recognise the responsibilities
for this lie with employers. "Our members have
been keeping parents informed of this campaign
the whole time it has been going. They have
been the mainstay of our public support, petition-signing
etc. They know that we raised the issue with
CoSLA, with individual local authorities and
with the Scottish Executive. We also took part
in a Scottish-wide working party at the end
of which the employers simply reiterated their
original mantra of 18 months previously."
Agnes outlined the main issues:-
- The claim covers all nursery nurses in local
- the claim has been rejected by CoSLA, of
which the City of Edinburgh Council is a member.
- along with rejecting the claim, the employers
want to introduce a new job title and ne job
description - and if that is not enough, they
have recommended making some nursery nurses
part time sessional employees.
Nursery Nurses have been campaigning for a
review of their jobs for two years and say that
the low pay and status of nursery nurses is
jeopardising the Government's nursery education
Scottish Local Authorities first claimed that
grading of nursery nurses was at individual
council's discretion, then agreed a Scottish-wide
working party when UNISON put claims in to every
But the report of the working party sidesteps
the crucial issue of nursery nurses pay and
UNISON is looking for a review of the status,
career structure and pay of nursery nurses across