By Matthew Barrett
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In a second pre-conference interview in this morning's papers (the first is covered here), the Chancellor of the Exchequer, George Osborne told the Sun about measures he will take to "strike back" against the unions – which the paper says Mr Osborne will fight "head-on". Osborne's proposed measures aren't huge economic boosts, but they do address injustices in the current system. He also refused to rule out not raising the 4p tax hike on fuel scheduled for January and August 2012 – which certainly will be an economic boost to families. He apparently will:
- "Block new workers from taking bosses to industrial tribunals for unfair dismissal until after two years of service — it currently stands at one year". Mr Osborne said "We talk a lot about trade union rights — but what about the right of the unemployed person to be given a shot at a job and a career? What about the rights of people currently sitting at home with nothing to do, desperate to get work, but the business can't afford to employ them because they fear they are going to be taken to the tribunal?"
- End the ability of civil servants to act as full-time union staff: "Mr Osborne also revealed he plans to throw out from Whitehall ministries 150 union staff who are on full-time salaries paid for by the taxpayer." Osborne explained: "Sun readers are paying their taxes and £30million of those taxes go to pay for this. I don't think that is reasonable."
- Cut red tape on businesses. Osborne explained: "I did the Sunemployment fringe meeting at the party conference last year. What a lot of the businesses in the audience said was, 'You are just making it too difficult to employ people. There is too much red tape, there are too many obstacles, you are asking us to take too many risks'. We have listened to those businesses."
- Ahead of strikes planned in November, Osborne issued this warning: "To go on strike because you are being offered a better pension than your next-door neighbour at a time when maybe your next-door neighbour is facing losing their job is something that is very difficult to justify."
- In contrast to the dour and pessimistic Labour and Liberal Democrat predictions for the economy, Osborne warned against talking down the economy: "We have got to try to avoid talking ourselves into a more difficult situation than the one we are in. My message is we are going to weather this global debt storm and we are going to get through this. … The plan we set out last year was strong but it is also flexible. We always said that it was a plan for good times and bad."
- Mr Osborne also hinted at a change of course on petrol prices: "I'm well aware of fuel duty rises next year." Robert Halfon MP's e-petition to lower petrol and diesel prices hit 100,000 signatures – the requisite number for the topic to be debated in Parliament – yesterday. This will not have escaped the Chancellor's notice.