Emboldened by the Tories' relatively good showing in the 5 May elections, the Government has called on business to "get stuck in" against "unions and interest groups".
Speaking to the Institute of Directors, a bosses' club, on 11 May, chancellor George Osborne said:
"If we are going to support private sector growth and create jobs, we can't shy away from looking at difficult issues like employment law...
"Your voice, the voice of business, needs to go on being heard in the battle. Some of these may be controversial. Unions and interest groups may oppose them. I say to the business community . . . don’t be passive observers. Don’t stay on the sidelines. Get stuck in to the argument".
Ed Davey, the Liberal Democrat Business Minister, has formally announced that the Government is looking at a series of changes to workers’ rights, including:
• limiting the amount that can be paid in discrimination cases;
• weakening Tupe, the rules supposed to safeguard workers' terms and conditions when work is transferred from one employer to another, for example by outsourcing or privatisation;
• the requirement to give workers 90 days’ notice of redundancies.
The cool-headed Financial Times reported lawyer Yvonne Gallagher saying that the workers' rights in these cases all flow from European Union law, and will be difficult for a British government to change.
The government has lawyers too, and may be able to find loopholes. Osborne's immediate purpose is to keep the unions on the back foot, off balance, on the defensive - keep them worrying about what will hit them next, rather than rallying to fight back.
The unions must fight back, and demand that the Labour Party leadership supports them in that.