ACT party leader Jamie Whyte says businesses are reluctantly opting for immigrant labour because New Zealanders are not up to getting out of bed and going to work.
Mr Whyte made the comments at an immigration debate attended by all the main political parties in Auckland yesterday.
He said he has been travelling the country talking to business people who say it is difficult to get local staff who are up to the job.
Mr Whyte said businesses employ workers from overseas because they cannot get the staff from New Zealand.
"[They say] We want them to work in our fishing boats, or we'd like them to drive our trucks, but they're not up to it, and when I say not up to it, I don't mean they're not up to the simple task, I mean they're not up to getting out of bed, regularly in the morning and getting to work every Monday, every day."
Also speaking at the conference, New Zealand First leader Winston Peters said it is a disgrace to suggest New Zealanders are lazy.
Mr Peters said New Zealand is a low-wage economy which is being driven down further by the likes of ACT.
"Which population works the second longest hours of the 34 OECD countries? Ours does. Which is the highest earning population in Australia that's non-Australian? New Zealanders are. And this idea I heard you people clapping, saying our people are lazy, is a disgrace frankly."
Immigration Minister Michael Woodhouse said the issue of immigration gets dragged out every three years during election time.
The Employers and Manufacturers Association said Mr Whyte's claims are provocative.
Head of the Auckland branch of the Employers and Manufacturers Association, Kim Campbell, said the situation is far more complicated than Mr Whyte is making out.
He said New Zealand does allow quite large numbers of immigrants into the country, while unemployment is over five percent, but there are reasons for that.
"It is true that we have elements within our community who do lack civic skills, these are folks that might have been disabled in some way, or live in places where it's difficult for them to get to work or they have a lifetime of unemployment history and other things.
"But to say that New Zealand workers are just basically lazy is I think unnecessarily provocative."
Mr Campbell said there are progammes to try to help these people back into the workforce.