Pressure mounts on Anas Sarwar over low wages at family firm

As Anas Sarwar makes his candidacy for Scottish Labour leader official, his family firm responds to controversy by claiming to support “the principle” of a living wage

UNITED WHOLESALE (SCOTLAND) LTD (UWS), the family firm in which Scottish Labour leadership candidate and living wage advocate Anas Sarwar reportedly has a multi-million pound stake, has defended itself against criticism over the low wages paid to its employees.

UWS claims to support “the principle” of a living wage and says it is working towards it for all employees. However, it also refers to “our highly competitive market” and the need to create a “level playing field” before it believes action can be taken.

The statement from UWS appears to imply that, without legal obligation rendering it mandatory, the firm was hesitant, unwilling or unable to pay anything beyond the National Living Wage for over-25 year olds of £7.50 an hour.

As uncovered by Sunday Herald investigative journalist Paul Hutcheon, the Cash and Carry operator UWS offers £7.50 per hour for a 45-hour week, less than the £8.45 generally demanded by living wage and anti-poverty campaigners, as well as the £10 minimum wage committed to by UK Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn.

The full statement said: “We are proud supporters of the Labour party and regular donors to the party’s election campaigns because we agree with Labour values.

“We support the principle of a real living wage and have committed to work towards it for all employees.” Statement from Anas Sarwar’s family firm

“United pays all its workers the UK Government’s minimum wage or more, but we support the principle of a real living wage and have committed to work towards it for all employees.

“We would like it to be mandatory so that we can move towards it sooner and ensure that every company pays it – creating a level playing field in our highly competitive market.”

According to the Resolution Foundation and the Living Wage Commission, a living wage that reflects the basic cost of living in the UK would stand at £8.45 an hour.

“I am a minority shareholder in United Wholesale Scotland, not a director, and play no active part in the running of the company.” Anas Sarwar

In an earlier statement on the matter, Sarwar distanced himself from the company and claimed to have no say in its decisions, arguing: “I am a minority shareholder in United Wholesale Scotland, not a director, and play no active part in the running of the company – and never have.

“I strongly believe all companies should pay the real living wage, and have received assurances that UWS has an ambition and desire to pay it.”

Despite Sarwar’s protestations, his involvement with UWS has attracted strong criticism since the wages paid by the firm became public.

“In practice Anas Sarwar’s style is more profiteering for the few, not the many.” SNP MSP Clare Haughey

SNP MSP Clare Haughey told press that “despite his bluster, even employees of the Sarwar family firm don’t get a fair day’s pay for a fair day’s work. In practice Anas Sarwar’s style is more profiteering for the few, not the many.”

Ewan Gibbs, lecturer in sociology and social policy at the University of the West of Scotland, commented on Twitter: “It’s not a personal attack to say a multimillion share holder in a large firm shouldn’t lead the Labour Party. It’s structural analysis.

“It’s not a personal attack to say a multimillion share holder in a large firm shouldn’t lead the Labour Party. It’s structural analysis.” University of the West of Scotland lecturer Ewan Gibbs

“It goes against the raison d’etre of having a LABOUR Party not to understand that there is a class conflict between workers and employees.”

UWS’s statement was released as Sarwar cemented his candidacy for Scottish Labour leader, announced last week, by signing the nomination form necessary for him to stand as Kezia Dugdale’s successor.

In a brief video released by Sarwar on social media, Sarwar signed the form and said: “Today the campaign starts to put Labour values at the heart of Scotland’s future.”

As it stands, the race still appears to be between Sarwar and MSP Richard Leonard. Leonard, generally regarded as the more leftwing candidate, last week announced that his campaign would be run by Midlothian MP Danielle Rowley, daughter of Scottish Labour interim leader Alex Rowley.

Also last week, in a move which, along with the UWS controversy, many saw as further confirmation of the perceived ideological divide between Leonard and the more centrist Sarwar, Leonard called for Scottish railways, renewable energy firms and oilfields to be taken into public ownership, and recently won the endorsement of Scottish Labour Young Socialists (SLYS).

In a statement released on social media, SLYS said: “Under Richard, Scottish Labour will challenge the timid consensus in Scottish politics which for too long has accepted the best we can do is ameliorate the worst excesses of predatory capitalism.”

Picture courtesy of Scottish Labour

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