Labour is considering exempting employers from paying the minimum wage if they guarantee high-quality training towards a recognised qualification, Ian Nash writes.
Detailed proposals will be published shortly alongside the minimum wage plans. They will be targeted at 16 to 18-year-olds, with flexibility to cover older people on Modern Apprenticeships or those being trained to national vocational qualification level 3 (A-level equivalent).
Labour is carrying on a commitment towards training the young, according to one party source. "We are making sure training is of high quality. Short-term measures have given training a bad name with young people."
Labour will require all employees under 18 to have at least six hours' training a week. But as the Modern Apprenticeship covers people up to 25, Labour may have to concede that the minimum wage cannot effectively start below that age.
The alternative would be to push workers on to dole queues and let them retrain on a college course. This would be easier as Labour plans to relax the 16-hour rule - legislation which the Tories are rethinking (above).
The party's social security measures, unveiled this week, indicate how a Labour government would remove welfare restrictions, bring benefit agencies, job centres and careers guidance under a single body and allow claimants, under the guidance of case managers, discretion over how they use their benefits and public money set aside for training and benefits.
Plans to relax study restrictions have been welcomed by further education groups such as the Association for Colleges, since they would create an estimated extra 80,000 student places.
But there was disappointment that no new money was promised. Job-search and training packages would be tailored from existing resources, savings would be made from the creating a single agency.
Chris Smith, Labour's social security spokesman, said: "Instead of being there just to dish out a Giro, we want the Department of Social Security to team up with the employment service to help job seekers back to work."
But Labour cannot put figures on the levels of benefits, the cash available for retraining or what incentives it can give employers to retain and retrain staff until the minimum wage is fixed by the Low Pay Commission, a body yet to be created.