Anas Sarwar has has hit back at his critics who highlighted a family business that employs workers on poverty pay and did not recognise unions. The business paid workers below the living wage. 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
Sarwar owned about a quarter of the shares in UNITED WHOLESALE (SCOTLAND) LTD (UWS), the Glasgow cash and carry company. Sarwar had previously declared shareholdings worth almost £2.7 million in his parliamentary register of interests.
When confronted on the issue by the Herald newspaper a law firm for UWS wrote: “Given the terms of the article published on 10 September and the emphasis which was placed on Anas Sarwar’s connection with our client (if only as a minority shareholder), our client takes the view that the line of enquiry being pursued is politically motivated rather than truly focusing on workers’ rights.
“In the circumstances, our client declines to comment further on this matter and trusts that its decision will be respected.”
An SNP spokesperson said: “Public figures cannot just clam up entirely when legitimate questions are being raised about their business interests. Anas Sarwar’s silence on workers’ rights is untenable.”
Commenting on Twitter, the Herald’s Scottish Political Editor Tom Gordon said: “Well, this doesn’t look good. If Anas Sarwar’s family firm recognised unions it ought to be happy to say “Yes”.”
The defeated candidate for the Scottish Labour leadership said it was “unfortunate” that some Scottish Labour activists had attempted to make the contest “about my family.”
After it was confirmed that his family’s wholesale firm did not recognise unions and paid workers below the £8.45-an-hour living wage, Mr Sarwar passed his minority shareholding in the company on to his children.
“When it became clear that my shareholding in my family’s business was an issue, I was more than happy to absolve myself of those shares because I chose a different life for myself from the outset.”
Patrick Harrington, Director of Third Way, commented: “To be fair to Mr Sarwar he was a minority shareholder and the company did say it was trying to move toward the living wage. They raised the issue of competitiveness if they did that in a field where others didn’t and urged that the wage be made mandatory for all. I think that a motivated workforce more than compensates for any loss of competitiveness in pure wage calculations. So I don’t accept that argument. Where I do have a problem is that Mr Sarwar simply put the shares in his children’s name rather than try to influence the company on the issues of trade union recognition and wages.”
Mr Sarwar’s children will gain access to the shares, believed to be worth £4.8 million now, on reaching adulthood.