British businesses have a “duty” to take on local young people rather than the “easy option” of hiring foreign workers, a government minister has said.
Matthew Hancock, a minister at both the Department for Business and the Department for Education, said that a rise in vacancies meant firms should prioritise British job applicants.
"As vacancies rise, and unemployment falls further, it is the duty of companies, especially big business, to take on local young people – not immediately take the easy option of recruiting from abroad," he said.
Hancock rejected accusations that his call echoed the “British Jobs for British Workers” initiative backed by Gordon Brown in the last Labour government.
“The jobs are there. That was about a job creation scheme and also making this a law mandatory. This is about changing culture. It also of course is part and parcel of changing the welfare system, so that it always pays to work and reforming education.
“And I see immigration and education reform and welfare reform as very much integrated to make sure that everybody in Britain has the chance to get on and that’s what this is all about.”
Hancock's claims were derided as "meaningless rubbish" by UKIP leader Nigel Farage, who said that the European Union was advertising 800,000 UK jobs to those living in its other 27 member states.
"Mr Hancock's comments are totally, utterly meaningless rubbish, while we remain part of the EU's single market," he said. "He is not allowed to put the interests of British workers first because we are members of the EU."
"They (the Conservatives) know they have lost the argument on jobs and immigration and UKIP have stolen a march on them and are attempting, through rhetoric, to take that territory back."
Labour's shadow immigration minister Chris Bryant last year called on firms to hire British workers.
"I think there are three industries, the hospitality industry, the construction industry and agriculture who have done remarkably little to make sure there are British people able to come in [and work in] those industries," he said.
"Why is it that you go to a hotel in France and you're welcomed by a French person? That's delightful! You've actually got to invest in skills and training and make sure you've got the balance and work force that is going to take on those jobs."