PLANS to fire hundreds of council nursery workers and rehire them on cheaper wages are an “outright scandal”, a union representing staff in North Lanarkshire has said.

Unison, Scotland’s largest public service union, claims the local authority is proposing to sack early years practitioners then reappoint them on lower wages in a move one local organiser has described as “outrageous”.

North Lanarkshire Council is run by a Tory and Labour coalition. 

The union estimates the proposed downgrade will affect as many as 375 full-time workers and see some salaries cut by up to £6500 at a time household incomes are already under enormous strain due to the cost-of-living crisis.

The union is now balloting members on whether to take strike action over the proposals and has vowed to fight them “every step of the way”.

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The vote comes after about nine in ten (91%) members indicated they were willing to walk out over the issue during a ballot held earlier this year.

Unison North Lanarkshire branch secretary Marie Quiqley said: “Strike action is always the last resort but early years practitioners have made it very clear that they will do what it takes to have these plans scrapped.

“These are the workers who nurture young children and prepare them for school, identifying their needs and ensuring they are met.

“Demands on early years practitioners are increasing because they’re seeing more children with increased educational needs, as a result of being unable to socialise during the pandemic.

“At a time when it’s harder than ever to make ends meet, these mostly women workers are being asked to do the same work for considerably less.

“The council needs to put an immediate end to these plans and start prioritising children and the workforce our young people rely upon.”

Regional organiser Audrey Malloy said: “This is real people and real families who are being affected by these outrageous proposals.

“North Lanarkshire Council say they can’t afford it, instead they should be asking if they can afford not to.

“They are jeopardising children’s entire education if they don’t ensure young people are properly supported from the very start.

“The attainment gap will grow and children and their families will suffer.

“Our early years practitioners don’t want to be on a picket line, they want to be in nurseries working with children, but the council is leaving them very little choice.

“The whole community has been rallying in support of the workforce, it’s high time the council realised their value too.”

Unsion Scottish secretary Tracey Dalling said: “To fire and re-hire workers is not only an outright scandal, it’s completely against both Labour and Scottish government policy.

“Councils across Scotland are feeling the funding squeeze but slashing workers’ pay and putting the future of young people at risk is not the way forward.

“Unison is right behind our early years practitioners and we will continue to fight these proposals every step of the way.”

A North Lanarkshire Council spokesperson said: "We have received notification of the intention of UNISON to ballot a limited number of early years staff. It is entirely inaccurate for UNISON to describe the changes proposed in Early Years as 'fire and re-hire', which is where employees are not offered alternatives, and it is irresponsible of them to portray it in this way.

"Employees affected have a number of options including applying for voluntary severance or early retiral on enhanced terms. Redeployment opportunities are available and any staff remaining will be subject to 18-months protection of their current salary.

"One-to-one meetings are being held with every affected employee to discuss their individual circumstances in detail. This exercise will be concluded over the next few weeks and we hope to achieve a suitable outcome for all.

"These changes align the staffing structure with the previously agreed model and were decided as part of the council's budget-setting process for 2023-24 in which a budget gap of £28.3million had to be addressed."