The Minister for Enterprise, Jobs & Innovation has said Fine Gael and Labour plan to introduce a jobs budget in the first 100 days of Government, which will see a VAT reduction and the abolition of the travel tax.

Richard Bruton's comments come as the latest figures from the Central Statistics Office show a sharp rise in the unemployment rate.

The unemployment rate is now estimated to be 14.6%.

Minister Bruton said no-one could predict where unemployment would end-up.

The Government, he said, is still committed to reversing the cut to the minimum wage, saying only a tiny number of people are employed on the minimum wage.

It will also look at other dimensions in employment regulation, he said, which would bring down costs, without pushing down the wages of the lower paid.

Minister Bruton said the Government will be developing programmes to head off the trend of long-term unemployment, including the introduction of 60,000 work programmes, training places, and internships.

15,000 will be introduced in the first 100 days.

The CSO's Quarterly National Household Survey for the final three months of 2010 shows that the number of people at work dropped by 64,500, or 3.4%, to 1.82 million compared with a year earlier.

Unemployment increased by 31,600, or 11.8%, over the year to 299,000. The seasonally adjusted unemployment rate for the quarter climbed to 14.7%.

As a result of the latest figures, the CSO has sharply raised its estimate of the latest unemployment rate from the 13.5% contained in February's Live Register figures to 14.6%.

The figures also show a rise in long-term unemployment, with the rate increasing from 4.1% of the workforce a year earlier to 7.3%.

The CSO said those out of work for more than a year now made up just over half of the total number unemployed. This is the first time this has happened since the late 1990s.

The male unemployment rate at the end of 2010 was 17.3%, and the rate for females was 10.1%.

The percentage of those employed between the ages of 15 and 64 fell from 61.1% to 59.4% in 2010. It is the first time the employment rate has fallen below 60% since early 1998.

The male employment rate fell to 63.1%, from levels of 77% and above during 2006 and 2007. The change is most pronounced for males aged between 20-24, where employment had been as high as 76% in 2006. At the end of last year, this was 45%.

The CSO says, however, that the pace of decline in employment is slowing.

Construction showed the largest fall in employment, down 25,600 over 12 months. Employment in the education and transportation sectors showed small increases over the year.

The number of non-Irish nationals at work fell by almost 14% during 2010 to 220,000.

The number of non-Irish workers unemployed was 49,600, with the unemployment rate in this sector rising to 18.4%.

The total labour force stood at 2.12 million people at the end of 2010, down 1.5% or 33,000 from a year earlier.