Redundancy talks period to be cut from 90 to 45 days
The 90-day consultation period before large-scale redundancies can take place is to be cut to 45 days, under government plans.
Employment Relations Minister Jo Swinson said the move was aimed at helping workers and businesses.
Labour said the changes would not boost economic growth and the TUC said: "Making it easier to sack people is the last thing we need."
But many business groups welcomed the move.
The change, which would affect the whole of the UK, is planned to be introduced in April. It would affect redundancies of 100 or more workers.'Strike a balance'
Ms Swinson said a consultation process had produced strong support for the changes and added: "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.
End Quote Brendan Barber TUC
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.”
"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."
Shadow business secretary Chuka Umunna described the announcement as a "watering down" of employee rights.
Mr Umunna tweeted: "Ministers think watering down people's rights at work is the big bazooka to get growth going and yet there is no evidence to support this."
Shadow employment relations minister Ian Murray said: "David Cameron should be making it easier to hire, not easier to fire. We need a real plan for jobs and growth, not an attack on people's rights at work."
Scotland's enterprise minister Fergus Ewing said the change "will make it more difficult to mobilise and plan the support that can minimise the devastating impact of large redundancies on communities".
He added that if employment law was the responsibility of the Scottish government, ministers would ensure a better balance between "the needs of employers, employees, local economies and communities".
A Welsh government spokesman said the 90 day consultation period is the "absolute minimum necessary" to ensure that "possible alternative solutions" to redundancy can be found.
The TUC's 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."
Unison's assistant general secretary, Bronwyn McKenna, said: "Any worker facing redundancy needs time to plan, to mitigate the impact on them and their family finances. Making arrangements to cover mortgages or rent, sort out bills, retrain and apply for new jobs all takes time and this cut will leave families facing financial hardship."'Antagonism'
But Alexander Ehmann, of the Institute of Directors, said: "Companies facing problems have to be able to restructure swiftly, and a 45-day consultation period brings the UK closer to a number of EU competitors.
"We 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," he added.
Tim Thomas, head of employment and skills at the manufacturers' organisation EEF, 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."
Dr Adam Marshall, director of policy at the British Chambers of Commerce, said: "In the 21st century requiring a business to spend a quarter of a year consulting on how to restructure is unnecessary, frustrating and potentially disastrous."
Ms Swinson also announced plans to exclude fixed-term contracts from collective redundancy agreements when they reach the end of their "natural life".
Earlier this year the prime minister commissioned venture capitalist and Conservative Party donor Adrian Beecroft to write a report about how employment law could be reformed to cut red tape and boost UK businesses.
He reported in May but some of his recommendations were condemned by Business Secretary Vince Cable, a Liberal Democrat.
Later in the summer the coalition decided that, rather than introduce the recommendations in the Beecroft Report, they would consult with businesses about what changes they would like to see introduced and that consultation has led to Wednesday's announcement.
The announcement came on the last day of trading for electrical store chain Comet - which had employed more than 6,000 people - after it went into administration.
And cleaners and porters at Brighton and Sussex University Hospital NHS Trust are to vote about taking industrial action after their employer, Sodexo, was accused by the GMB union of "deliberately avoiding" its statutory obligation to hold a 90-day consultation over redundancies by announcing just under 100 job losses.