Sainsbury's today announced plans to create 20,000 jobs across the country over the coming three years, as it joined other major employers for a growth summit hosted by Prime Minister David Cameron at 10 Downing Street.
Mr Cameron, who wants a surge in private sector employment to "rebalance" the economy amid extensive job cuts in the public services, told business chiefs his administration would pursue "the most pro-business, pro-growth, pro-jobs agenda ever unleashed by a government".
But he was accused of betraying young workers by Labour leader Ed Miliband, who warned that Government policies risk creating a "lost generation" of unemployed young people.
And unions voiced concern over claims that ministers are planning
an "employers' charter", watering down employment rights in a bid to encourage recruitment and bolster economic recovery.
There was no official confirmation of reports that workers will have to wait two years before being protected against unfair dismissal and will be required to pay a fee when lodging an employment tribunal claim.
Downing Street said only that Vince Cable's Business Department was undertaking a review of employment regulations to ensure that they are "fair to employees but also that we minimise the burdens on employers". The review will report "in due course".
But Bob Crow, general secretary of the RMT transport union, said it appeared Mr Cameron was drawing up a "bad bosses' charter that will strip workers of hard-earned rights and allow employers to treat their staff like dirt".
Mr Crow added: "With hundreds of thousands of people facing the loss of their jobs in the austerity cuts this year it is now crystal clear that the Government intend to give bosses the right to hire and fire at will... The trade unions will fight these moves every step of the way."
Sainsbury's was among several firms at today's summit hoping to expand its workforce over the coming year.
Chief executive Justin King said that the 20,000 full and part-time posts in the group's supermarkets and convenience stores would "provide a huge boost to communities across the UK".
Morrisons announced it would create 5,700 new jobs by opening new stores and 300 in manufacturing, while Tesco predicted 9,000 extra posts, the Co-op 1,000 and Asda 15,000 retail apprenticeships.
Others included John Lewis and Microsoft (4,000 each), Centrica (2,600), InterContinental Hotels (around 1,000) and Kingfisher (several hundred).
Mr Cameron said the new jobs came on top of 300,000 posts created in the private sector over the past six months.
"We can only get our economy back on track by creating a climate in which the private sector can grow and develop, creating jobs and opportunities for people across the country," said the Prime Minister.
"This year the Government is determined to help deliver many thousands of new jobs and I'm delighted that the companies joining me today are part of that.
"It's time we looked forward to a positive, strong, confident Britain. By developing the right skills and jobs I am determined that the many not the few will share in the country's prosperity."
But Mr Miliband told a press conference in London minutes ahead of the growth summit: "If Mr Cameron is really concerned about jobs, he should address the dangers of a lost generation of young people.
"He should think again about his decision to abandon the Future Jobs Fund and the 100,000 additional jobs it would have offered to young people out of work."
The Future Jobs Fund was launched by the previous Labour government to respond to a rise in youth unemployment in 2008 and 2009 and was used to fund temporary jobs, mainly for 18 to 24-year-olds who had been out of work for over six months.
With nearly one in five young people unemployed, the Commons Work and Pensions Committee has warned of a "looming gap" in provision for young jobseekers, said Mr Miliband.
And he warned: "Out of work, these young people cost money to the Exchequer and their potential is being wasted. And we know from the 1980s and 1990s the dangers of leaving young people without hope and chances."
John Philpott, of the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development, said the job creation pledges and policy initiatives at today's summit were "likely to have only a marginal impact on the employment outlook in 2011".
"The critical determinant of private sector employment growth in 2011 will... be the extent to which net exports and investment off-set slower consumer spending and the planned cuts in public spending and tax hikes," he said
It would be "particularly inadvisable" to extend the period before employees are protected against unfair dismissal from the current 12 months, added Dr Philpott.
"Such a move would do nothing for jobs in the short-run against a backdrop of weak economic growth and would at best have only a limited impact on the economy's underlying job creation potential."