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Union fury as Osborne wants workers to swap rights for shares

Chancellor George Osborne wants employees to be given the opportunity to give up employment rights in return for shares in their company

The new "employee-owners" will receive between £2,000 and £50,000 of shares that will be exempt from capital gains tax when sold, and in return will give up rights on unfair dismissal, redundancy and the right to request flexible working and time off for training.

Announcing the policy to the Conservative annual conference in Birmingham, Mr Osborne said it would appeal to new businesses starting up and small and medium-sized firms who need flexible labour and highly motivated staff.

But aides said the voluntary scheme will be open to any limited company. They expect hundreds of thousands of employees to sign up within the next few years, at a cost to the Treasury of around £100 million in lost capital gains tax by 2017/18, and growing in subsequent years.

Mr Osborne's aides said that the plan had been agreed with Liberal Democrats, including Business Secretary Vince Cable and is expected to be fast-tracked through Parliament this autumn for introduction in April 2013.

But it is likely to provoke clashes with unions, though TUC general secretary Brendan Barber suggested that take-up was likely to be small.

Mr Barber said: "We deplore any attack on maternity provision or protection against unfair dismissal, but these complex proposals do not look as if they will have very much impact as few small businesses will want to tie themselves up in the tangle of red tape necessary to trigger these exemptions."

Education Secretary Michael Gove hailed a "brilliant speech".

He said: "I thought he was very clear and authoritative and compassionate.

"I thought he outlined the way in which the decisions we have already taken are laying the foundations for future prosperity, and the challenges which are being felt through Britain that are being met by this Government."

The Chancellor was praised by Tory colleagues for his conference speech, but was angrily attacked by unions representing millions of workers in private firms and the public sector.

Prime Minister David Cameron and Foreign Secretary William Hague were among those happy with George Osborne's contribution.

But union officials criticised his "failed economic policies", while business leaders called for "swift action" on his growth priorities.

Unite general secretary Len McCluskey, said: "George Osborne's repetition of 'we are all in this together' is an insult to millions of families struggling to make ends meet and meaningless to the one in seven children who regularly go without a hot meal. His cuts will turn decent people into desperate people.

"Osborne needs to look the mothers and fathers of hard pressed families in the eye and explain why he is cutting their services and working benefits, as he writes out £40,000 cheques to his millionaire chums.

"His vision of One Nation is to pick the pockets of ordinary working people and push young people into a life of homelessness, while giving tax cuts to the rich and letting the bankers in the City luxuriate in £13 billion of bonuses."

Paul Kenny, GMB General Secretary, said: "Now we see George Osborne, the man who is giving a £40,000 windfall to each of the millionaire elite, announcing more attacks on the least well off in our society and on workers' rights.

"Slashing people's employment rights under the guise of ownership schemes won't create jobs and it won't create growth.

"His attempts to dupe the electorate that he knows what he is doing have been rumbled. George Osborne has as much knowledge about economics as a stick of rhubarb.

"George Osborne's claims to protect public services are laughable. Billions of pounds of cuts mean growing NHS waiting lists, job losses and those who deliver our services being asked to do more for less every single day."

Rachel Reeves, Labour's shadow chief secretary to the Treasury, said: "George Osborne's speech shows he is in complete denial about the failure of his plan.

"His defensive speech didn't once mention that his policies have seen a double dip recession, one million young people out of work and, as a result, the deficit going up by 22% so far this year, and he failed to mention growth or set out any policies to deliver the jobs and growth we need to get the deficit down.

"The reason why George Osborne has been forced to talk about billions more cuts into the next Parliament is because his failure to deliver economic growth means he will break his promise to balance the books by 2015. There do need to be savings in the welfare budget, but the benefits bill is soaring under this Government because unemployment is so high."

John Cridland, director general of the CBI, said: "The Chancellor was right to remind Britain that there is no real alternative to deficit reduction. This is why business has supported his deficit plans for the last two and a half years, and still does. But this has to go hand in hand with dynamic action for growth.

"Towards the end of his speech George Osborne outlined a very important list of growth priorities, including more aviation capacity, investment in renewable energy and shale gas, and a new approach to exploiting Britain's science through industrial policy. Businesses will want to see swift action in all these areas.

Simon Walker, director general of the Institute of Directors, said: "It was very encouraging to hear George Osborne restate his commitment to deficit reduction and radicalism to restore economic growth. Our members know what it's like to take tough decisions in order to succeed, and he is right to stick to that path."

Friends of the Earth policy and campaigns director, Craig Bennett, said: "Generous shale gas tax breaks show the Chancellor clearly isn't listening to the increasingly vociferous warnings from leading politicians, businesses and climate experts about his reckless dash for gas."

The Prime Minister told activists: "Great speech, that", while Mr Hague said: "It was a fantastic speech. Very, very clear, as always."

Defence Secretary Philip Hammond said: "It was a brilliant speech. I thought it really set an over-arching vision of the various different measures that we have taken in all different areas, and explained how we are dealing with the short-term challenges, but also, much more importantly, setting out the long-term agenda for the future of Britain."


From Belfast Telegraph