Only a few days to go: We’re raising £25,000 to keep TheyWorkForYou running and make sure people across the UK can hold their elected representatives to account.

Donate to our crowdfunder

Nursery Nurses

– in the Scottish Parliament at 11:12 am on 11th March 2004.

Alert me about debates like this

Photo of Murray Tosh Murray Tosh Conservative 11:12 am, 11th March 2004

The next item of business is a debate on motion S2M-985, in the name of Carolyn Leckie, on nursery nurses, a just claim, and two amendments to that motion.

Photo of Frances Curran Frances Curran SSP 11:18 am, 11th March 2004

I welcome all the nursery nurses who are in the Parliament today and those who are lobbying outside at the moment. [ Applause. ] We are allowed to clap.

Photo of Frances Curran Frances Curran SSP

Some of us have no problem with applause from the balconies.

I would like to declare an interest in the debate. I am the parent of a four-year-old who is affected by the dispute. I make it clear that like many other parents I support the nursery nurses 100 per cent in their just claim for decent pay and a decent career structure. I think that I speak on behalf of other parents when I say that I appreciate the time, energy and care that nursery nurses invest in my son and thousands of other children each day. My son thrives in his nursery, which is a lovely place and a great environment. The children who attend the nursery learn many things, including social skills. Some nurseries can have 80 children. When I return in the afternoon to collect my son, I am aware that a great deal of energy has been spent by nursery nurses during the day. I could not do their job and I am sure that neither could many other MSPs. We should recognise that it needs a certain commitment and a certain type of person.

Nursery nurses have a huge responsibility for the future generations. The Executive thinks so too, because it has given nursery nurses more and more responsibilities. Their job has changed completely since their most recent pay review. They are responsible for the three-to-five curriculum, assessing students, serving children, liaising with other professionals such as speech therapists, health visitors, psychologists and occupational therapists, and assessing special-needs children. It is not widely known that nursery nurses who work with special-needs children work with pupils aged up to 18. They are in schools working alongside teachers, but there is a massive difference in their pay. They have to work with young people with complex learning needs and keep up to date with research on conditions such as autism. All that is packed into their job.

Who is giving them all that responsibility? The Parliament—the Executive was responsible, but the Parliament voted for it, so we have given them all that responsibility. The MSPs who will vote on the motion—the vote is not until 5 o'clock this afternoon—never had any problem putting up their hands and voting for an early-years education system to be proud of. They never had any problem putting up their hands and voting to give nursery nurses more responsibilities when they are in the nurseries day in, day out. However, when they are asked to put up their hands and say, "We believe that you should have a national career structure and that you are worth £13,000 to £18,000 a year," they say, "Oh no, it's nothing to do with us. No, no, no, we don't even have a view on it. That is up to the Convention of Scottish Local Authorities. That is up to local government. That is up to somebody else." That is double standards, it is rich and it is utter hypocrisy.

I know that some MSPs took part this week in a special edition of "University Challenge". It is a big secret who won, but we will no doubt hear on the grapevine. They competed against a group of MPs from Westminster—sorry, I have just been reminded that it was against members from Wales; I wonder who would have won had it been MPs.

Photo of Margo MacDonald Margo MacDonald Independent

What was their starter for 10?

Photo of Frances Curran Frances Curran SSP

I was just about to say that I will give those who did not have the opportunity to take part a starter for 10. Who said that the Executive would recommend tying funding for local authorities and Scottish Enterprise to their promotion of equal opportunities, such as enforcing equal pay for men and women? The answer is Margaret Curran, the Minister for Communities. Monday was international women's day. The Executive trotted out all the statistics that we hear year in, year out—the annual list on the difference between men's pay and women's low pay. We know why there is low pay for women. It is because women workers are concentrated in jobs involving cleaning, child care and caring. Those jobs are underpaid and undervalued by society and the nursery nurses are a case in point; they are undervalued by Parliaments, politicians and society as a whole.

I appeal to all the women on the Labour benches, especially those who signed the motion on international women's day—some of them would even call themselves feminists—to stand up for what they believe in and put their money where their mouth is. Ordinary MSPs are sitting here on £50,000 a year and ministers are sitting on £77,000.

Members:

What about you?

Photo of Frances Curran Frances Curran SSP

We take half our wage. The difference is that I think that the nursery nurses are worth £18,000. I put my money where my mouth is and I am out on the picket line supporting them.

I am asking Labour women today to come off the fence and vote for the motion to say to COSLA, "Get to the negotiating table, negotiate a just claim and give the nursery nurses a national deal." I ask them to say openly to the nursery nurses, "We've got confidence that you are worth £18,000." Give them the money now.

I move,

That the Parliament agrees that the nursery nurses have a just claim and that there should be a fair, nationally negotiated settlement to their current dispute.

Photo of Lord James Selkirk Lord James Selkirk Conservative 11:24 am, 11th March 2004

I state from the outset that the Scottish Conservatives believe that the issue of nursery nurses' pay is primarily between COSLA and Unison. We believe that a review of nursery nurses' pay has been needed desperately, because of the increased duties and tasks that they have taken on over the years. Furthermore, we are in favour of national guidelines, with the final pay and conditions set by the local authority, which would better reflect local circumstances. For example, Aberdeen City Council has agreed an annual contract for a 36-and-a-quarter-hour week, with a salary starting at £17,340 and rising to a top level of £19,029, which is more than £1,000 more than the top rate that Unison is demanding. Our party believes that Aberdeen City Council has shown a way forward in settling the dispute—indeed nine of the 32 councils have settled.

I echo the concerns of the Scottish Independent Nurseries Association, the representative group of private nursery nurses. SINA understands more than most that nursery nurses are undervalued, but it fears that there will be repercussions for the private sector if Unison achieves its demands. It estimates that fees at independent nurseries will rise by about 30 per cent in order to match the wages offered to local authority staff. The independent and voluntary sectors have been at the forefront of development in pre-school education, offering a more flexible service than do local authority pre-school nurseries. The independent sector offers a full 10-hour day, which is essential for some working parents who require pre-school education to offer facilities for longer hours than those offered by local authority nurseries. Therefore, if COSLA meets in full Unison's pay demands, the parents who depend on the flexibility of the independent nurseries could be hit hardest.

Photo of Tommy Sheridan Tommy Sheridan SSP

What James Douglas-Hamilton said is entirely consistent: the Tories do not believe in national pay bargaining or the public sector. That is fine, but does he accept that the nine councils that have settled cover a minority of Scotland's nursery nurses, more than 4,000 of whom are still on strike?

Photo of Lord James Selkirk Lord James Selkirk Conservative

Yes, of course I accept what the member said. However, I make to him the obvious point that the Labour councillor Frank Russell made on 5 March. He said:

"There cannot be a single agreement for nursery nurses Scotland wide. This is simply a non-starter as the job is different in different parts of the country. In addition COSLA believes that it is unjust if the agreement does not take account of the fact that school nursery nurses are working only 39 weeks in the year whilst others are working 48 or 52 weeks a year. Annual salaries must reflect these differences."

It must be remembered that the national child care strategy stressed that pre-school education must be affordable. However, Unison's demands for a national settlement could have the opposite effect on independent nurseries to that which is intended. I stress strongly that David McLetchie called on Unison to make a special dispensation for children with special educational needs. I repeat that call and look forward to an enlightened response from Unison.

Many have said that the issue is not just about low pay, but about inequality. The allegation is that nursery nurses are not paid a higher wage, because the profession is made up predominantly of women and the job is seen as women's work. As I stated, the local deal agreed by Aberdeen City Council is a beacon of light, pointing the way to solutions for other councils. It is our conviction that nursery nurses are not recognised for the fundamental work that they do in teaching children in their early years. We believe that underlying attitudes must change towards nursery education so that genuine recognition of nursery nurses' work and a salary that reflects that can come about.

I move amendment S2M-985.1, to leave out from "agrees" to end and insert:

"supports local pay bargaining; welcomes the settlement by nine local authorities, but calls on UNISON to make a special dispensation for children who have special educational needs due to the severe impact that the strike has on them and their families."

Photo of Euan Robson Euan Robson Liberal Democrat 11:29 am, 11th March 2004

I will just move amendment S2M-985.2 at the moment, to give other members a chance to contribute. I will speak later.

I move amendment S2M-985.2, to leave out from "agrees" to end and insert:

"recognises the importance of the pre-five sector to securing the best possible start to life for Scotland's young people and the priority the Scottish Executive has given to pre-five provision; welcomes the significant progress in pre-school education entitlement for three and four-year-olds achieved over recent years; emphasises that nursery nurses and others in the early years workforce should receive pay that is fair to them and is financially sustainable; notes grading settlements made to date; urges COSLA to do all it can to support a resolution to the current dispute; further urges the local authority employers and unions to continue negotiations, and encourages the Executive to push forward with plans to secure improved workforce planning, qualifications structure and career pathways for the early years workforce as a means of securing recognition of the commitment and professionalism of pre-five workers, greater opportunities and equality in the workplace for this predominantly female workforce."

Photo of Brian Adam Brian Adam Scottish National Party

The debate about nursery nurses' pay has been going on for far too long. The first motion on it in the Scottish Parliament was debated in July 2001. My former colleague Mike Russell lodged a motion that called on the Executive—which has a role to play today, in spite of its rather woolly-worded amendment—and COSLA to review the low levels of pay that nursery nurses receive.

I think that that call, which is almost three years old, is still valid today. However, I do not think that we should be only at the stage of reviewing nursery nurses' pay; I think that we should be at the stage of having a settlement. Lord James Douglas-Hamilton rightly pointed out that there have been a number of settlements across the country and highlighted one in the city that I represent. I welcome the fact that the dispute has been resolved in some areas. However, I regard those local resolutions as interim solutions. There is no doubt that much of what nursery nurses do today is decided by the standards that are set at a national level. I believe that COSLA is abrogating its responsibilities by dodging the issue and hiding behind grading revisions.

As someone who represented another group of staff at a national level for many years in the national health service, I was always aware that there was grade drift between local authorities. That did not detract in any way from the value of having a national settlement that meant that people were delivering the same services to the same standard across the board. That situation firmly applies to nursery nurses. It is high time that we resolved this matter.

I am disappointed that the Conservatives and the Executive have lodged amendments to Carolyn Leckie's simple, straightforward and easily supported motion. I have no hesitation in offering the full support of the Scottish National Party to the motion.

The Conservatives' reliance on local pay bargaining is disappointing but at least consistent. Across a range of public sector areas, the Conservatives do not believe in national pay bargaining, largely on the basis that they think that they can buy people off in the areas in which there is high unemployment and no great demand for what I suppose we might call a commercial solution.

More disappointing than the Conservative's position is the Executive's attempt to rewrite history in its amendment. Buried in the middle of the amendment is a phrase that I find quite concerning. The amendment calls for a pay settlement that is fair to nurses and "financially sustainable". That is Governmentspeak for, "We're nae gaun tae gie ye onie money because we don't think we can afford it." I am not sure why that phrase is in there unless it is to give an appearance that the Executive parties are supporting the nursery nurses while saying to COSLA that the Executive has no more money to give local authorities to ensure that nursery nurses are given a fair wage.

It is also disappointing that the Executive makes reference to nursery nurses being a predominantly female work force. The Executive almost uses that fact as an excuse for not paying them a fair and proper wage.

Photo of Margaret Jamieson Margaret Jamieson Labour 11:33 am, 11th March 2004

I declare an interest, as a member of Unison and a mother of a qualified nursery nurse.

In our previous debate on the subject of nursery nurses, I asked the minister to do all in his power to ensure that COSLA resolves the dispute by entering into meaningful negotiations with the trade unions that represent early-years educators in Scotland. The following day, 25 September 2003, I asked him to give further consideration to the speeches that members had made the previous evening on the need to bring about a resolution to the dispute.

Here we are, six months down the road, and nursery nurses are on an indefinite strike. I ask the minister whether he has had any discussion with COSLA during that time or whether COSLA has treated him in the same shabby way as it treated the trade unions representing the nursery nurses.

It is unacceptable for COSLA to hide behind the cloak of job evaluation schemes when the parameters have not been published and will not be binding on the 32 Scottish councils. That begs the question of how some local agreements stack up.

In 1996, the European Commission network on child care set quality targets for services for young children, which covered wages, basic training, continuous training and the right to be a trade union member, and stated that 20 per cent of the work force should be male. Has COSLA considered its obligations in relation to those quality targets? Does it know that they exist?

The Scottish Executive has invested heavily in child care to the tune of £928.5 million and COSLA has never been slow to accept the money. In 2000, we published "Working with Children: A guide to Qualifications and Careers in Early Education, Childcare and Playwork" and a follow-up action report that was supported by a further £3.9 million for 2000 and 2001. We have paid for expansion and for staff training and development. By financial resolution, we have also paid for the provisions of the Regulation of Care (Scotland) Act 2001. However, COSLA continues to ignore the rightful claims of nursery nurses.

We have a professional work force in the early-years sector. That will be further demonstrated later this year when nursery nurses are required to register with the Scottish Social Services Council, demonstrating their qualifications and their continuing professional development, if they are to be allowed to practise in Scotland.

All those issues will also be considered when inspections take place. I hope that the inspectors will rattle the cage of those local authorities that have paid no heed to their obligations.

The members of the Executive parties value nursery nurses. We cannot allow the pay gap between men and women to continue. I welcome Joe Di Paola of Unison's statement in an interview last Sunday that consideration is being given to lodging claims for equal pay for work of equal value.

It is time for Pat Watters and COSLA to stop the slagging and to get round the table to negotiate a settlement with Unison that involves national grading and national pay. That will allow our nursery nurses to return to the job that they are qualified to do: providing our children, who are our future, with the best start in life.

I support the amendment in the minister's name.

Photo of Murray Tosh Murray Tosh Conservative

I am afraid that the clock has beaten us. I express my regrets to the members who had hoped to take part in the opening debate but we must now commence the closing speeches.

Photo of Johann Lamont Johann Lamont Labour 11:39 am, 11th March 2004

I welcome the opportunity to contribute to the debate. We have debated this subject in the Parliament before but we have to be honest and recognise the limits of our authority. We have to recognise the difficulties that confront the employers and the union negotiators in this matter and consider what the Executive and the Scottish Parliament can do. That is what the Executive amendment does.

The position that we are in has been reached partly because of the decision on the single-status agreement. I do not always automatically argue the trade union case in the Scottish Parliament; I do not see that as my job and I know that every union member who takes industrial action is confident that their position is the correct one. However, in this case, I think that the issues are so important that the Executive and the Parliament must consider what we can and should do to resolve the dispute. I believe that the Executive amendment offers a way forward.

I cannot overstate the importance of the pre-five sector and nursery teachers, nursery nurses and other workers in that area. Much of the increase in work and responsibilities in the sector has come about because the Scottish Executive, the Labour members of it and the Labour women MSPs are so committed to the key role of the sector in supporting social inclusion and tackling poverty.

Photo of Johann Lamont Johann Lamont Labour

I am happy to debate the issues but I have only limited time for my speech.

The pre-five sector is particularly important to women who want to work, especially lone parents. We also acknowledge the crucial role of the sector for children in vulnerable and chaotic families. Every day, nursery staff reach out and support those vulnerable children.

The dispute impacts disproportionately on women. It impacts on the women who predominate in the sector and on those who are now juggling their commitments as a consequence of the dispute. One of the issues around the dispute is the fact that the consequences are hidden, which might be why it is not being taken as seriously as it should be.

The heart of the issue is low pay and the pay gap that women experience, which is a structural problem. I have asked before whether women predominate in the nursery sector because it is low paid or whether those crucial jobs are low paid because women are doing them. We must grapple with that problem by working with the local authorities and others. It is essential that nursery nurse pay is sorted out, because of the importance of the job, because of our commitment to social inclusion and the best start for all our young people and because of our commitment to closing the pay gap.

We understand that we are where we are in the dispute. The Executive has a role in delivering a national review of the sector. Carolyn Leckie's motion is fine; the Labour amendment adds to it because it creates not an aspiration but a way forward.

Photo of Tommy Sheridan Tommy Sheridan SSP

Will the member explain why she is willing to remove the key sentence in the SSP motion, which is about the fact that there should be a nationally agreed pay settlement? The Executive amendment removes that.

Photo of Johann Lamont Johann Lamont Labour

Because a national review of the sector would create a national set of pay conditions, which would sort that problem. I believe that there should be national grading for the whole of the nursery sector, and a national review would deliver that. The review would expose the gap between what we expect women to do and what we pay them for doing it. It offers a more serious way forward than the aspiration in the motion.

I hope that members and the Executive acknowledge that our amendment will not just get us by today; it is a serious attempt to consider how to resolve the dispute, whether we pay proper respect to those who work in the sector, and how we do the hard job of negotiating how to close the pay gap and give proper remuneration for a central job in our local communities.

Photo of Robert Brown Robert Brown Liberal Democrat

On a point of order, Presiding Officer. I am extremely unhappy with the way in which the speeches have been taken. Euan Robson gave up the opening speech to allow other members a bit more time for a ridiculously short debate. The SSP chose the subject for a debate of three quarters of an hour, when it could have given it the whole period of debate if it had wanted to. The result is that there has been no Liberal Democrat opening speech. That totally distorts the balance of representation in the Parliament and is entirely unsatisfactory. I ask for your views on that.

Photo of Murray Tosh Murray Tosh Conservative

I have no view. My position is to defend the standing orders and the resolutions that the Parliament has passed. If the member is unhappy with the outcome of the procedure, he has two options: he can raise it through his party representative on the Parliamentary Bureau; or he can raise it with the Procedures Committee, which may choose to take up the matter with the bureau and recommend a change to standing orders.

I can only express my regret at the amount of time that has been lost. The longer we prolong such exchanges, the more time I have to take from other members. I already require to take a minute from the members who remain to speak.

Photo of Robert Brown Robert Brown Liberal Democrat

On a further point of order, Presiding Officer. The fact remains that there was no opening speech for the Liberal Democrats. That is not in accordance with standing orders and is not conducive to a balanced debate in the chamber.

Photo of Murray Tosh Murray Tosh Conservative

The member is wrong. Mr Robson had an opening speech. He chose to move the motion formally, and that is within his rights. That is what he chose to do.

We are burning away time that we do not have.

Photo of Bill Aitken Bill Aitken Conservative 11:44 am, 11th March 2004

It is difficult to sum up a debate of this type and duration, but I will try to do so.

In her opening remarks, Frances Curran made some points with which we agree. She highlighted and spoke eloquently about the increased duties that nursery nurses have had imposed upon them in recent years. That point was well made. However, she failed to realise that her argument that there is an attitude in the Parliament that the matter is nothing to do with us has no validity. Strictly speaking, the issue is nothing to do with us because it is a matter for Unison and COSLA. If we carry on introducing to the chamber debates that are not strictly within the Parliament's remit, we will lose more time in which to get on with what the Parliament should be doing. That is why I found Frances Curran's argument lacking in credibility.

Brian Adam's opening remarks were correct when he said that the dispute has gone on for far too long. There is no one in the chamber who wants it to be prolonged or for the settlement to be other than fair and just. However, it is spurious to suggest that the settlement should be based on a nationally agreed format. Clearly, there are different responsibilities, pressures and duties in different parts of Scotland. The Aberdeen negotiation has resulted in a settlement well above—

Photo of Bill Aitken Bill Aitken Conservative

I am genuinely sorry that I cannot take any interventions, but I do not have the time.

All new Labour purists will have regarded Margaret Jamieson's speech as being decidedly off message. She seemed to excoriate COSLA, Pat Watters in particular and the Labour Executive. I found it extraordinary that she said in her closing remarks that she would support the Executive's amendment. Given her contribution, that seemed to be, at best an exercise in completely misguided thinking or, at worst, sheer hypocrisy.

COSLA and the union should be seeking to bring the dispute to the earliest possible conclusion in the most favourable possible circumstances for all concerned. That will not be done on the basis of national negotiations.

I support Lord James Douglas-Hamilton's amendment.

Photo of Adam Ingram Adam Ingram Scottish National Party 11:47 am, 11th March 2004

I am pleased to confirm that the SNP will support Carolyn Leckie's motion. We believe that the case for a national deal for nursery nurses—providing decent pay and a proper career structure—is incontrovertible. None of us, least of all the nursery nurses, wanted the current situation to arise, with hundreds of council nurseries closed, thousands of dedicated workers on indefinite strike and many more children and their parents suffering disruption to care and education routines.

Unlike other members in the debate who want to pass the buck to COSLA, I do not believe that anything less than direct intervention from the Executive will bring about a lasting settlement of the dispute. The mantra that ministers have adopted of non-intervention, frankly, is no longer credible, if it ever was.

The Executive has made great play of the major investment that it is making in early-years education, laying down national strategies, care standards and curricula. I do not understand how ministers can fail to see that all those plans will come to nought if they continue to undervalue and demotivate the skilled work force that they need to deliver all that.

Hiding behind the single-status agreement between COSLA and the unions just will not do. All too often, COSLA betrays an offensive and patronising attitude, which we have heard again today from the Tories, who have said that the nurses work for only 39 weeks per year and that their job is different in different parts of the country. The comparators cited are non-teaching staff such as school secretaries and administrators. The real comparison should be with teachers and the McCrone deal. There is overwhelming support for that view among parents, which explains, in part, the huge sympathy for the nursery nurses among the public at large.

Let me illustrate my speech with an example from South Ayrshire, where a nursery nurse who had done two years' study and had five years' experience ended up teaching a probationary nursery teacher how to teach in a nursery school.

The fact is that a probationary teacher's salary is 1.5 times the salary of a nursery nurse. That illustrates how badly nursery nurses are undervalued and the lack of recognition and respect that they are afforded by their employers. Ministers, who know that to be the case, should be ashamed of themselves.

I urge all members to support the nursery nurses by voting for the motion.

Photo of Murray Tosh Murray Tosh Conservative

I call Euan Robson to close for the Executive. You have five minutes, but I cannot extend that in any way.

Photo of Euan Robson Euan Robson Liberal Democrat 11:50 am, 11th March 2004

We have heard some thoughtful contributions in this short debate.

Let me be clear that the Executive believes that nursery nurses and others who work in the early-years sector carry out an extremely important role. Indeed, by taking action to invest more money in pre-five provision, the Executive has expanded the sector dramatically and put it on the map, such that today the sector comprises more than 26,000 workers, or 1 per cent of Scotland's work force. Nursery nurses work with our children at a crucial stage in their development and help them to meet their full potential. Without the dedication and quality service of our nursery nurses, we would not have had such progress in providing pre-school education entitlement for all three and four-year-olds.

Like all members, I want to see our early-years work force being paid a fair salary at a sustainable level. The dispute has gone on too long. Both sides need to get together to sort it out. I urge them to do just that.

Photo of Shona Robison Shona Robison Scottish National Party

Will the minister join me in condemning the shameful actions of Dundee City Council's Labour-Lib Dem administration, which phoned the parents of children with special needs to encourage them to go to the press to criticise nursery nurses for going on strike? Does the minister agree that that is a shameful action for a local authority to take during the dispute?

Photo of Euan Robson Euan Robson Liberal Democrat

I have no knowledge of that local situation, but in a moment I will mention what SNP councils have done.

The Parliament should be aware that, in 1999, the unions and employers agreed and signed the single-status agreement, which was designed to create a fairer method of determining pay. Under the single-status agreement, the responsibility for setting the pay of staff in their areas who are covered by the agreement rests with local councils. To date, nine councils have settled their disputes. In areas where the dispute has been settled, the predominantly female work force has received a pay increase.

Photo of Euan Robson Euan Robson Liberal Democrat

No, I want to deal with the SNP.

The SNP is negotiating at local level in Angus and in Falkirk. In Highland, the SNP member who is education chairman is negotiating locally and is likely to settle the dispute locally. Do not listen to what SNP members say, but look at what they do.

Over the years, the work of our early-years work force has changed and it will continue to develop. To recognise the importance of the work force and to help it to meet the demands of 21st century early-years services, the Executive wants to get on with a number of measures that are aimed at development and reform. Over the next two years, we will allocate £12 million of work force development funding to local authorities to help workers to gain access to the qualifications that they will need to register with the Scottish Social Services Council and to deliver the high-quality services that we all expect.

I agree that the status of the sector should be higher than it currently is. Registration with the Scottish Social Services Council will go some way towards helping that, but we will also consider ways of establishing clear career structures for workers in the sector.

Photo of Karen Gillon Karen Gillon Labour

Regardless of the single-status agreement, there is a clear need for a national framework for the pay and conditions of nursery nurses. Will the minister accept that there is a need for an independent review of nursery nurses' pay and conditions similar to the review that was given to the teaching profession and that the Executive has a duty to lead on that?

Photo of Euan Robson Euan Robson Liberal Democrat

No.

Other professions provide—[Interruption.]

Photo of Euan Robson Euan Robson Liberal Democrat

The position is quite clear. Under the single-status agreement, it is for local authorities to negotiate with their work forces. If there are further developments that we can take after the dispute is settled, we will consider those at that point in time. However, let me say quite clearly that we want the status of the profession to rise. As I said, we believe that registration with the Scottish Social Services Council will go some way towards helping that, but we will also consider how clear career structures might be established for workers in the sector.

Other professions provide opportunities for career progression and for lateral movement, so that people are given scope to develop in a different direction within a broad professional grouping. A career in early education and child care should be no different. To achieve that, we need a rationalised and modern qualifications framework that takes proper account of our integrated children's services agenda.

We want to get on—

Photo of Murray Tosh Murray Tosh Conservative

The minister must close now. There is simply no further time.

Photo of Murray Tosh Murray Tosh Conservative

I apologise.

I call Carolyn Leckie to close for the SSP. I can allow her an absolute maximum of five minutes.

Photo of Carolyn Leckie Carolyn Leckie SSP 11:56 am, 11th March 2004

I welcome all sister members of Unison who are in the public gallery. In particular, I welcome Joan and all the nursery nurses from North Lanarkshire, as well as all the special needs nursery nurses who are present. Like Lord James Douglas-Hamilton, I recognise the special job that they do. That is why they deserve more pay, which should be paid on a national basis. That is the reason why they are on strike.

It is an absolute disgrace that, after 16 years without a review, 10 months of intermittent strike action and two weeks of all-out strike, nursery nurses still do not have decent national pay for a highly skilled, professional, national job.

Photo of Carolyn Leckie Carolyn Leckie SSP

I have limited time. I apologise.

I do not have time to go into all the details, so let us get to the crux of the issue, which is today's vote on the Executive amendment to my motion. The Executive amendment would leave out "just claim". Why? I believe that the nursery nurses have a just claim, but does the Executive believe that?

The Executive amendment would not require COSLA to settle the dispute nationally, which is the very source of the impasse. The Executive has been prepared to set a national early-years curriculum and to establish a care commission that sets and enforces national standards in care and education, so why does it remain silent on the issue of a national pay and careers structure for the people who deliver those standards? No matter where in Scotland nursery nurses work—from Wishaw to Dundee—they should have the same pay and careers structure.

The Executive amendment

"urges COSLA to do all it can to support a resolution to the current dispute" and

"further urges the local authority employers and unions to continue negotiations".

However, COSLA has been willing to participate only in local negotiations. The Executive amendment is saying, albeit creatively, that the Executive opposes a national settlement. The Executive amendment is like junk food: it is empty calories; it has no substance; it has no real meat; and it certainly offers no sustenance to nursery nurses.

Teachers, the police and nurses all have national pay for doing national jobs, albeit in different schools, police stations and hospitals. Councillors even want national pay for themselves. When Pat Watters gave evidence to the Local Government and Transport Committee to demand £25,000 a year for councillors, he was asked whether councillors in Glasgow and Edinburgh perhaps did a different job from councillors in Inverness and elsewhere. "Absolutely not," he said, "we need national pay." If national pay is good enough for Pat Watters, it is good enough for the nursery nurses.

And what about MSPs? We are all on national pay, yet we represent different local employers, who are the voters. If we were to put our pay out to local negotiations in our constituencies, how much would Bill Aitken or Euan Robson receive?

I appeal to the many people in the chamber who have trade union history and support and to those who shout about pay discrimination and the way in which women are undervalued. I am being serious. Even if the full claim was won, nursery nurses would still be a full £7,000 a year behind the average male wage. The claim is just. All members know fine well the duty of solidarity. They know that if there is no national settlement to the dispute while the nursery nurses are all on strike, they will be consigned to low and unequal pay for a very long time—they know what a strike means.

A review is double-speak for defeat. I urge members to vote for substance, not empty calories. I urge them to ask how the nursery nurses would want them to vote. They know what the issue is and they know how they would vote: they would vote for the SSP motion, unamended. We must not let them down. Victory to the nursery nurses!