The Fair Work Commission has ruled to cut Sunday and public holiday penalty rates for full-time, part-time and casual workers in hospitality, retail and fast food.

The wage reductions, announced today, will go into effect from July.

The commission says the cuts will allow some businesses to stay open longer on Sundays and public holidays, or open at all on those days. But Fair Work Commission president Iain Ross also acknowledged that at present, many of the workers affected by the cuts earn “just enough to cover weekly living expenses”.

The Australian Council of Trade Unions (ACTU) said about half a million people will lose $6000 a year because of the decision.

For staff affected by the cuts, the softening blow – according to Russell Zimmerman of the Australian Retailers Association – is that “they will be offered extended hours”. Zimmerman said in a press conference that the association was happy with the cuts, but would have liked to see casual workers’ rates come down more. He also said that a lot of businesses, especially those in regional Australia, will now be able to open on Sunday when they haven’t previously.

But for many workers who rely on penalty rates, the cuts are unwelcome.

Giulia McCool has worked at David Jones in Sydney for just under two years.

“As a student, the reason I have the time to study at university during the week is because I get penalty rates,” she says. “Picking up even one more day of work during the week could mean adding an extra semester, or even year, to my degree.”

For others, the extra money earned on Sundays and public holidays amounts to a liveable wage.

“I work weekends and study through the week,” says Elias, who has worked in a Sydney bookstore for four years (he declined to give his last name). “This represents a major cut to my income, compromising my ability to pay rent, feed myself, and just survive.

“It seems to have escaped those making this decision that rent in Australia is at an all-time high.”

Zachary Tan, chef and owner of Devon Cafe, Devon at Barangaroo and Lucky Suzie in Sydney, can see both sides. “It’s something that has been a long time coming. I see a lot of small food business struggling to survive and I think this will help a little bit,” he says. “It will make opening on Sunday more convenient.

“When I first arrived, I was shocked by the lack of retail services on Sundays and public holidays, even just after 5pm. Coming from Asia 10 years ago, its unheard of to be closed. But the beauty about Australia is the work-life balance, which is why so many people have migrated here.”

Hospitality workers will see their penalty wage cut from 175 per cent to 150 per cent, while in retail, full and part-time wages will be reduced from double the standard rate to 150 per cent, and casual Sunday wages will be cut from double to 175 per cent. Full and part time fast food workers will have their penalty rates cut from 150 per cent to 125 per cent and casual workers will see reductions from 175 per cent to 150 per cent. Full and part-time pharmacy worker wages will be cut on Sundays from double to 150 per cent, and casual workers will be paid 175 per cent instead of 200 per cent.

Additional reporting by Sam Jonscher.