Sarwar accused of 'hypocrisy' over Labour living wage plan

Scottish Labour leader Anas Sarwar has confirmed that not all workers at his family's wholesale business are currently paid the real living wage.

His party wants to introduce new minimum rates of pay linked to the cost of living as part of its "new deal for workers".

Mr Sarwar, who has no direct involvement in United Wholesale, told BBC Scotland's The Sunday Show it would have to start paying Labour's "genuine living wage" if it wins the general election.

Other parties accused him of "hypocrisy" over the policy.

The real living wage hourly rate advocated by the Living Wage Foundation is currently set at £12 across the country and £13.15 in London.

That is 56p more than the current national minimum wage – introduced by Labour as part of their 1997 election manifesto.

Labour has not set out precisely what rate it would introduce but it backs a "minimum wage taking account of the cost of living".

Mr Sarwar waived his right to benefit from his family's firm in 2017 after becoming an MSP.

The wholesaler was founded by his father and, as of 2019, employed about 250 people at outlets across the west of Scotland.

He confirmed not all staff at the firm were paid the Living Wage Foundation's real living wage rate, but said that they would receive a cost of living-linked rate of pay if Sir Keir Starmer becomes prime minister.

He told BBC’s The Sunday Show: “They will have to do what everyone will have to do which is comply with the new deal for working people.

“I don’t believe that every single staff member is on the real living wage but I know there have been significant increases in the wage after negotiations with Usdaw, their trade union.

“Every business, including that one, will have to comply with the new deal for working people which will deliver a genuine living wage right across the country.”

Mr Sarwar denied the plans would result in job losses as a result of businesses struggling to meet increases in pay.

Labour's “new deal for working people,” would also ban zero-hour contracts.

Mr Sarwar said the plans would help to boost incomes for workers, creating prosperity among businesses with staff having more to spend.

He said: “We need to change the balance of rights for working people.

“There is no cost to the taxpayer. If you talk to businesses all over the country, they too believe it will have a net positive in terms of driving up productivity, get more economic activity up and deliver for their workers and workers who aren’t having to struggle to make ends meet.

“It will not cost jobs. When we look at the election in 1997, the scaremongering then was that we were going to cause hundreds of thousands of jobs across the country.

“We are hearing the same again from Stephen Flynn and the Tories.”

'Astonishing revelation'

Opponents accused Mr Sarwar of "hypocrisy" over the admission.

Mr Flynn, the SNP's Westminster leader, said Labour was "watering down" workers' rights and described Mr Sarwar as "less change, more chancer".

He said: "This Labour Party hypocrisy scandal shows why voting SNP is vital to protect workers' rights and put Scotland first.

"Hard working people across Scotland are struggling to make ends meet thanks to Westminster failure - and Anas Sarwar's family firm are doubling down on that struggle by refusing to pay a real living wage.

“The Labour Party has repeatedly watered down their commitments on workers’ rights and it’s no surprise given this astonishing revelation from their most senior figure in Scotland."

Meanwhile, Craig Hoy, chairman of the Scottish Conservatives, described the interview as a "car crash".

He said: "The Scottish Labour leader was left in the humiliating position of saying his family firm would be forced by law to pay the real living wage, if his party won the election, because they refuse to do so voluntarily.

“It leaves Anas Sarwar open to the charge of hypocrisy – especially as the controversy over what staff are paid surfaced more than six months ago and it’s still not been resolved.”