There is no specific time for labourers at bakeries
The invigorating smell of fresh bread and cakes wafting from ovens leads one to these shops. Having started their day around 4 a.m., working swiftly by 7 a.m. the city's bakers are ready with various puffs and breads.
“It is difficult to work in the heat. But after 30 years on the job, I got used to it. There won't be many holidays in this job, but I took to it as my father too was in the same job,” says M.Jayagovindan, who works at Madras Food Industries, which manufactures bread for a major brand at Vepery.
There is no specific time for labourers like him to go home either.
“When we get sudden orders, we have to stay on till the orders are completed. Till a few years ago, we used to have three shifts daily. But now bread manufacturing alone is no longer lucrative. When I first joined the industry, I worked for a large concern and used to go to work at 5.30 p.m. and start for home at 9 a.m. the next morning,” recalls P.P.Subramanian, president, Chennai Bakery Owners Association.
When schools open, it is a busy time for bakers as breads come in handy when people run out of options for lunch and breakfast.
“We also supply to school and college canteens and offices,,” says K.Selvakumar, who along with his brother K.Mohankumar run the 60-year-old Sri Amman Bakery in Pudupet.
“My grandfather A.Angappa Chettiyar started it and after my father A.Kannan Chettiyar, we are running the show. We still have a traditional wood-fired oven and do not want to change it like most others have,” he says.
The industry is labour intensive and many people who are experts in making cakes or decorating cakes are in demand. Some small shops manage with just one man running the show with help from family and a minimum number of staff. They would call in “masters” when they have the need for special orders.
In most small bakeries, the employees are paid wages on a daily basis.
The requirement for expertise in each field such as making biscuits, buns, rolls, cakes, puffs differs from bakery to bakery.
Cake makers, for instance, earn up to Rs.500 a day, biscuit makers up to Rs.400 a day, and those who have slightly lesser expertise but know to handle the oven would be paid Rs.300 a day. The helpers earn lesser.
Owing to the issue of labour shortage, people such as K.M. Abdul Lateef and K.M. Abdul Salam, who have been running a bakery, 1982 Victory Brothers, at Royapettah, are hesitant to open more outlets. “We do not sell our products in other outlets. We take bulk orders though.” Though baking for the day gets over by 3 p.m. with cookies, which requires the least amount of heat, the work for the day finishes by 11 p.m. when the ingredients for the next day are made ready.