Labour's finance spokesman Grant Robertson has denied a proposed 'training levy' was a crackdown on the use of migrant labour or would disadvantage businesses for using migrant workers.

The proposal was included in Labour's 'The Future of Work' programme as a solution to train the local New Zealand workforce and aimed at industries which relied on migrant workers because of skills shortages.

However, Robertson denied the levy was aimed at penalising the use of migrant workers instead of New Zealanders.

"We are levying businesses that are not doing their bit to train up a New Zealand work force. Immigration, skilled workers will always be part of the mix but we've got to do a better job of training New Zealanders."


He said businesses would not have to pay the levy if they provided training to any workers - whether they were migrants or New Zealanders.

Prime Minister John Key said Labour was all over the place with the proposal, but it would disadvantage small business which did not have the money for extra taxes or to take on junior staff.

"Encouraging the right thing to do, not discouraging them by putting on another tax. For small businesses the last thing they need is another tax. What they need is a government that let's them run their business, and the National government does that."

Key said New Zealand had just been ranked as the best country in the world to do business and imposing such levies would detract from that.

Robertson denied the proposal was business unfriendly, saying measures would be taken to support small businesses and it was likely 'micro' businesses would be exempt.

Robertson said companies which did not train new staff themselves were "freeloading" off other businesses.

"Most the business organisations we talk to already commit to training and, actually, they are quite pissed off with those other businesses who coat-tail off them."

The revenue from the levy was specifically for spending on training.

Labour had not yet decided whether to adopt it as formal policy or worked out details such as which industries would be charged the levy, what forms of training would be exempt, or how much the levy would be. It would work with business and unions on the details.