The three main parties have presented their proposals to be implemented if 6 May 2010 turns out to be their day. Their plans for employment undoubtedly vary, but also contain some similarities. It's fair to say maternity/paternity leave will become more flexible to some degree no matter who takes up residence in No 10, but what is on the cards for immigration, retirement and pensions?
Labour – "A future fair for all"
1. National Minimum Wage
The National Minimum Wage will rise, at least in line with average earnings, with a new £40 a week "Better off in Work" guarantee.
Guaranteed employment or training will be provided for those out of work for six months or more through the Future Jobs Fund with mandatory participation after ten months.
3. New Skills Accounts
Every worker will be able to make choices that drive improvement and quality, and the accounts will help learners know what training they are entitled to, the career benefits of training, and the level of funding available to them.
4. Maternity/Paternity Leave
- The introduction of more flexibility to the nine months paid leave will mean that mothers can share this entitlement with fathers after a minimum of six months.
- Paternity Leave will also be extended to four weeks, giving a "Father's Month". This will be flexible so that it can be taken over the first year of the baby's life, including flexibility to share the extra two weeks between the parents.
- Default retirement at 65 will end with older workers being given the right to request flexible working.
- Working Tax Credits will be available to those aged 60 and other who work at least 16 hours a week, rather than the current 30 hours a week.
The criteria for the points-based system will be tightened in line with the needs of the economy and there will be no unskilled migration from outside the EU.
The link between the basic state pension and earnings, severed in 1980, will be restored with effect from 2012 with help for ten million people to build up savings through new Personal Pension Accounts.
Conservatives – "Invitation to join the Government of Britain"
1. Get Britain working
The Work Programme will offer support to the young unemployed referring them on to the programme after six months of unemployment instead of a year. The programme will be delivered by providers who will only be paid when someone gets a job and keeps it.
2. Reducing debt
- Public sector pay will be frozen for one year in 2011, with the exception of the one million lowest paid workers
- A review will be held to bring forward the date at which the state pension age starts to rise to 66, although it will not be before 2016 for men and 2020 for women
- Tax credits will no longer be available to families with incomes over £50,000
- Public sector pensions above £50,000 will be capped
3. National Insurance
The primary threshold for National Insurance will be raised by £24 a week, with the Upper Earnings Limit raised by £29 a week. The secondary threshold at which employers start paying National Insurance will be raised by £21 a week.
Small and Medium Enterprises will be given a £2,000 bonus for every apprentice they hire.
An annual limit will be set on the number of non-EU economic migrants admitted to the UK to live and work and access will be limited only to those who will bring most value to the British economy. All new EU Member States in the future will be subject to transitional controls.
6. Flexible working and maternity leave
The right to request flexible working will be extended to all those with a child under the age of 18, and eventually, after full consultation, to all. The Jobcentre Plus office will be obliged to ask employers whether vacancies can be advertised on a part-time or flexible basis. A new system of flexible parental leave will allow parents to share the maternity leave between them.
Liberal Democrats – "Changes that work for you – Building a fairer Britain"
1. Fair treatment at work
- The right to request flexible working will be extended to all.
- Every company with over 100 employees will be required to use name-blind application forms to reduce sex and race discrimination, to be extended to all companies eventually.
- Every company with over 100 employees will conduct a fair pay audit to combat discrimination in pay. All public companies will be required to declare all remunerations of £200,000 per year or more.
- The Access to Work scheme will be reformed to give disabled job seekers better practical help to get to work.
- The minimum wage will be set at the same level for all workers over 16 (with the exception of apprentices).
- Compulsory retirement ages will be scrapped and workers will be able to choose to continue to work.
- There will be no income tax to pay on the first £10,000 earned.
- The system of non-domiciled status will be reformed so that it can only be held for seven years before the holder becomes subject to tax in the same way as a domiciled British citizen.
The link between the basic state pension and earnings will be restored. Every year, the state pension will be "uprated" by whichever is the higher of growth in earnings, growth in prices or 2.5 per cent.
4. Maternity/Paternity Leave
- Fathers will have the right to time off to attend ante-natal appointments
- Parents will be allowed to share the allocation of maternity and paternity leave in whatever way they choose.
- In the future, when resources and economic circumstances allow, the period of shared parental leave will be extended to 18 months.
- A regional points-based system will be introduced to ensure migrants work where they are needed.
- Asylum seekers will be allowed to work while their applications are processed.
Now, it's up to you. Will you be joining David Cameron in marking "a year of change"? Has Gordon Brown convinced you that he is offering "a future fair for all"? Or are you more comfortable with Nick Clegg's proposal of "change that works for you"? Or will you be swayed by the Official Monster Raving Loony Party promising to "disband" National Insurance as no one ever gets a no claims discount?