Industry chiefs slam Labour policy
Labour plans to require large companies to offer a new apprenticeship place each time they hire a worker from outside the European Union (EU) have come under attack from business leaders.
The flagship policy - which Labour believes could create 125,000 new apprenticeships over the next five years - was unveiled by leader Ed Miliband, who announced it will form part of an immigration bill in the first year of the next Parliament if he wins the 2015 general election.
But the British Chambers of Commerce denounced it as an "apprentice tax" while the Institute of Directors said it was "completely removed from reality". The Confederation of British Industry described as "unworkable" a separate proposal, floated by Mr Miliband, for varying minimum wage rates in different sectors of the economy.
Conservatives said the apprenticeships scheme would breach EU law unless the posts were open to nationals from the other 27 member states, in which case it might drive up immigration.
"Labour left Britain with immigration chaos. They haven't apologised," said skills minister Matthew Hancock. "Now they are demanding an unworkable apprenticeship scheme that would be illegal unless it was open to all EU citizens - encouraging more immigration. It's hard-working British people who would pay the price.'
Labour dismissed Mr Hancock's comments as "ludicrous" and said the Conservatives were putting themselves into the position of rejecting a policy which could create tens of thousands of apprenticeships.
Shadow immigration minister Chris Bryant confirmed that the posts would be open to applicants from the European Economic Area - the EU, Norway, Iceland and Liechtenstein - but said the bulk were expected to go to UK workers. He said in a Tweet: "New apprenticeships exactly as now open to all EEA but in practice 99% go to local workers."
The scheme was one of a raft of policies launched as Labour's annual conference got under way in Brighton, which Mr Miliband said would help create a "high wage economy" and ease the "cost of living crisis". The Labour leader announced he would increase fines on employers paying below the minimum wage from £5,000 to £50,000.
"In our first year in office we will legislate for an immigration bill which has secure control of our borders, cracks down on exploitation of workers coming here undercutting workers already here and says to big companies that bring in people from outside the EU that they can do that, within a cap, but they have got to train the next generation," Mr Miliband told BBC1's Andrew Marr Show.
Aides said that the new bill also would include maximum transitional controls on workers from new EU states, "proper checks" to count people in and out of the UK, a ban on recruitment agencies hiring only from overseas and a taskforce to tackle exploitation of low-skilled migrant labour in the care sector.