Moves by employers to strip workers of penalty rates on weekends would cut take-home pay and will be strongly resisted by unions.

ACTU President Ged Kearney said hundreds of thousands of workers in the retail and hospitality sectors depend on weekend penalty rates as a bedrock of their take-home pay and a campaign by employers to remove them would result in a less fair Australia.

Ms Kearney said unions would use the Modern Awards Review process in Fair Work Australia to lock in entitlements for people who work on public holidays and weekends, and would unite against a campaign by employer groups to take away penalty rates from workers on Saturdays and Sundays.

She said the ACTU’s applications to the review would seek to preserve the rights to extra compensation that should come with working on days that most people take for granted as important family and social time.

“When employers talk about more flexibility in the workplace, what they are really seeking is to cut penalty rates and shift loadings that workers depend on as part of their take-home pay,” Ms Kearney said.

“Adequate compensation for working anti-social hours is part of what makes a secure job. People in part-time or casual work often give up their time on weekends, evenings and public holidays because they are the only hours available to them and usually rely on penalty rates to provide them with a sustainable income.

“The employers leading the campaign to remove weekend and public holiday entitlements are those in the restaurant and catering industry, but we know this is the thin edge of the wedge and if employers succeed in these industries it will undermine the weekend penalty rate system across all industries.

“Business owners should try living on hospitality and retail wages before thinking about slashing penalty rates.

“We are concerned that removing penalty rates is not only on the employers’ wishlist, but recent comments by Tony Abbott confirm it is also part of the Liberal Party’s agenda for Australian workplaces. Australian workers have shown before that they will punish at the ballot box any politician or political party that seeks to take away penalty rates or otherwise slash longstanding workplace rights and entitlements.”

A national survey by the United Voice union released on Sunday found that 87% of Australians support the notion that if you work on weekends you should be entitled to a higher rate of pay.

Ms Kearney said the Save our Aussie Weekend campaign by the United Voice union to maintain penalty rates for the hundreds of thousands of workers in the retail and hospitality industries highlighted the issues of job and income security that the ACTU is campaigning about.