The Government is being accused of making it easier for firms to sack their staff through reforms to redundancy rules.
Unions reacted with fury after it was confirmed the 90-day period before large-scale redundancies could take place was to be cut by half to 45 days.
Employment Relations Minister Jo Swinson said the move was aimed at helping workers and businesses while other planned changes would exclude fixed-term contracts from collective redundancy agreements when they reached the end of their "natural life".
The minister said a consultation on the changes had produced a strong argument for shortening the 90-day period, adding: "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.
"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 the union organisation the TUC disagreed - its general secretary Brendan Barber said: "The last thing we need is for the Government to make it easier to sack people.
"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.
"Removing consultation rights from fixed-term contract staff will seriously increase job and financial insecurity for vulnerable groups of workers, and temporary staff will lose out on redeployment opportunities."
But Tim Thomas, head of employment and skills at EEF, the manufacturers' organisation, said: "Today's announcement will send a strong signal to industry that the Government is committed to creating the flexible labour market that it needs.
"By reducing the consultation period from 90 to 45 days, the Government has taken a further step to creating a modern, consultation system based on the quality, not the length of, the process."
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