Apprentice for each foreign worker scheme announced as if Labour gets into power in 2015 general election

Large companies would be required to train an apprentice for every worker they hire from outside the EU under plans announced by Labour.

Party leader Ed Miliband said the policy would create 125,000 new high quality apprenticeships over the next five years.

The radical initiative, unveiled ahead of the Labour conference in Brighton, will form part of an immigration bill in the first year of the next Parliament if Labour wins the 2015 general election.

However, business leaders have been quick to criticise the policy, with the British Chambers of Commerce (BCC) labelling it an "apprentice tax".

Mr Miliband also pledged to increase the national minimum wage to help with the cost of living.

"I want a high-wage British economy, not a low-wage brutish economy, and we've got plans to make that happen to drive up skills," he told the Sunday Mirror.

"So we're going to say to any firm who wants to bring in a foreign worker that they also have to train up someone who's a local worker, training up the next generation.

"We think that can create up to 125,000 new apprenticeships over the course of five years. And that is a massive boost in skills for our young people and that is really important."

The apprenticeship policy would be linked to foreign nationals who come into the country under Tier 2 of the points-based immigration system. In other words, people who are offered a skilled job to fill a gap in the workforce that cannot be plugged by someone already based in the UK.

Labour said its research had found that many recently created apprenticeships have been for low-quality courses, and demanded that the number of high-quality apprenticeships be doubled.

But BCC director general John Longworth described the scheme as "an 'apprentice tax' on employers and job creation".

"Businesses need to be able to choose the talents and resource they need, and sometimes cannot find in the UK. This immigration benefits Britain," he said.

"Penalising good companies by making the grant of a work permit conditional on taking on a UK apprentice just raises business costs and new red tape."

Copyright Press Association 2013