Casual workers, of whom there are more than 2 million in Australia, are paid a loading of up to 25 per cent, but do not get annual leave or sick pay.
The chamber’s chief executive Stephen Cartwright said the «permaflexi» concept aimed to address employers’ concerns about wanting to give workers more security but needing flexibility of hours.
It comes after a landmark court decision up-ended employer assumptions about the long-term use of casuals, sparking fears they could be exposed to liabilities of up to $8 billion across the economy.
Mr Cartwright said the permaflexi solution was «long overdue» and that he expected workers to welcome it, after long-term casuals raised concerns about struggling to securing bank loans and mortgages.
«This is what they’ve been asking for, we’ve fixed all the problems and I’m shocked the union movement is opposing it,» Mr Cartwright said, dismissing as a «conspiracy theory» any suggestion that workers might be coerced into moving from permanent to permaflexi status.
«Why would anyone do it, when they have to pay an extra 10 per cent?» he said.
«It is our hope that the Fair Work Commission will give this full consideration and not be overly influenced by a politically driven campaign.»
The application, seen by The Sydney Morning Herald and The Age, is focused on one category of award — that governing social, community, home care and disability workers — selected because it has a large proportion of part-time workers whose hours vary from week to week.
If the Fair Work Commission approves the chamber’s application and its rollout is successful, similar provisions are expected to be inserted into awards across a range of industries.
Permanent employees would have to give their written consent before being converted to permaflexi status and could ask to convert back, as could those initially employed under the category — but employers could reject such a request on reasonable business grounds.
«Employees currently engaged as casuals may be considered by a court to be permanent full-time or part-time employees, exposing employers to award breaches,» the letter said.
The application is expected to be opposed in the Fair Work Commission, after ACTU secretary Sally McManus spoke out against the concept last year when the chamber first suggested it, saying it would «destroy permanent work» as employees would have no control over their hours.
Ms McManus’ former union, the Australian Services Union, represents workers who would be affected by the proposed change.
Dana is health and industrial relations reporter for The Sydney Morning Herald and The Age.