The 90-day consultation period before large-scale redundancies can take place is to be cut to 45 days from next April, the government announced in Tuesday.
The move angered the Trades Union Congress, which said the last thing the country needed was to make it easier to sack people. But business groups were pleased, even though some had called for a deeper cut to 30 days.
Jo Swinson, employment relations minister, said a consultation on the changes had produced a strong argument for shortening the 90-day period, which applies when 100 or more redundancies are planned.
“The process is usually completed well within the existing 90-day minimum period, which can cause unnecessary delays for restructuring, and make it difficult for those affected to get new jobs quickly”, she said.
Ms Swinson added: “Our reforms will strike an appropriate balance between making sure employees are engaged in decisions about their future and allowing employers greater certainty and flexibility to take necessary steps to restructure.’’
But Brendan Barber, general secretary of the Trades Union Congress, said: “The last thing we need is for the government to make it easier to sack people. Unemployment has not gone as high as many feared because employers have worked with unions to save jobs, even if it has meant sharing round fewer hours and less work.”
The need to consult unions has made an important contribution to that, he said. It had also given staff, many of whom had years of loyal service, time to think through their options.
“These measures will not create a single extra job. The idea that an employer will change their mind about taking someone on because the statutory redundancy consultation period has been reduced from 90 to 45 days is close to absurd,” he said.
Mr Barber added that removing consultation rights from fixed-term contract staff would seriously increase job and financial insecurity for vulnerable groups of workers, while temporary staff would lose out on redeployment opportunities.
Tim Thomas, head of employment at the EEF manufacturers’ organisation, said: the announcement would “send a strong signal to industry that the government is committed to creating the flexible labour market that it needs”.
The government had “taken a further step to creating a modern consultation system based on the quality, not the length of, the process”, he said.
Alexander Ehmann, head of regulatory policy at the Institute of Directors, said the move was a “welcome step in the right direction” because companies facing problems had to be able to restructure swiftly.
The IoD would have preferred a move to a 30-day consultation period – the same as for smaller-scale redundancies – which would have made the law less complex.