«It beggars belief as to how they believe that will advance job and income security for low-paid workers,» Health Services Union secretary Lloyd Williams said.
He said low-paid workers in the social services and disability sector were already struggling to make ends meet while working split shifts without compensation for travel time.
«I just see this as a ruse to reduce permanent hours and to create an environment where effectively part-time workers become casual workers with a lower casual rate,» Mr Williams said.
«We will be opposing this application and seeking to improve job security and make the modern award fairer for workers — and we don’t do that by reducing people’s minimum hours.»
Permaflexi workers would get a 10 per cent loading on top of what permanent full or part-time employees are paid per hour, in exchange for flexible rostering.
Unlike casual workers — who are paid a loading of up to 25 per cent — they would get sick leave and holiday pay, accrued relative to the number of hours they work.
«It is effectively reducing the casual loading from 25 per cent to 10 per cent» Mr Williams said, dismissing the argument that banks would be more likely to approve loans or mortgages for permaflexi workers whose hours were just as unreliable as a casual worker.
Australian Council of Trade Unions secretary Sally McManus said workers needed an objective definition of casual work in the Fair Work Act as «irregular, intermittent and unpredictable», in line with courts’ interpretation.
Mr Shorten has promised to review the definition of a «casual» and introduce an objective test if Labor wins the coming federal election.
The HSU, which is expected to work together with the Australian Services Union on a legal challenge to the permaflexi application, has lodged its own application with Fair Work to vary the industry award, demanding longer minimum shifts and better pay for overnight stays.
Mr Williams said many disability workers were not paid for the time they spent travelling between jobs and faced minimum shift times as short as 15 minutes.
Ms McManus said employers who «falsely classified workers as casual when they are not» left people unable to plan for the future, as well as being «unfairly denied paid sick leave and holidays».
«If employers have access to yet another category of insecure work they will use it to make permanent positions insecure and people won’t have a real choice in that,» she said.
«Australia has one of the highest rates of temporary and insecure work in the OECD. We are already an outlier in this area and we need to move towards better, more secure work.»
The permaflexi application comes after the Federal Court last year ruled that Paul Skene, a casual truck driver employed at a Rio Tinto mine through labour hire firm WorkPac, was entitled to annual leave and sick pay because he worked regular hours.
Employers are concerned that decision may leave them exposed to backpay claims worth up to $8 billion across the economy, if long-term workers employed as casuals are found by a court to be permanent full-time or part-time employees.
Dana is health and industrial relations reporter for The Sydney Morning Herald and The Age.