Women workers protests OPI's non-disclosure of the company's real status after it declared suspension of operation in April at GBP, Gen. Trias City, Cavite which displaced more than 4,000 workers mostly women.

Rosario, Cavite – Approximately 4,500 workers of Optis Philippines Inc. (OPI), mostly women, located inside the Gateway Business Park (GBP) in Gen. Trias City are all in danger of not getting paid of their separation pay because as of this writing, OPI management refuses to honestly disclose to its workers the real status of the company.

Abrupt Operation Suspension

OPI suddenly announced suspension of  its operation on April 14, 2016 because according to management, there were no materials and lack of orders from its buyers. After less than two weeks the workers returned on April 25 as per instruction of the management, but the company welcomed them with an official memorandum declaring that the company will not operate until May 15, 2016 and report back to work the next day, May 16 which was posted on social media site, Facebook.

But workers reported back twice on separate dates before May 16 because the management sent summons through text messages only to be  sent home again upon reaching the production plant.

On May 12, the workers received information through text messaging and again in Facebook that the suspension of operation shall continue until July 31, and will resume operation on August 1.

The workers still reported on May 16 to ask OPI management to clarify the real status of their work but according to the workers the management only advised them to seek temporary employment from other companies and just wait for further notice.

The sudden work suspension sent financial shock to the OPI employees who mostly came from different provinces across the country as far as Isabela or Sorsogon to name a few and leaving them with no income to pay for rent and buy their own food.

Likewise, since majority of them were breadwinners of their respective families, majority of the workers preferred to stay and look for work from other companies as the opening of classes for the new academic year already dawned.

Protest Action and Petition

Due to the vague pronouncements of OPI management regarding the real status of the company, workers sought the legal advice of the Workers Assistance Center (WAC).  And on May 18, the women workers held their picket in front of the OPI plant inside the GBP to protest the sudden closure and to demand full disclosure of the company’s status and one month financial assistance.

After the protest action, the workers furnished the Philippine Economic Zone Authority (PEZA) a copy of their petition letter that they were about to submit to the Department of Labor and Employment (DOLE) CALABARZON Office in Calamba City, Laguna.

The workers addressed their letter to DOLE Regional Director Ma. Zenaida A. Campita and asked for a dialogue with the OPI management.

The workers wanted OPI management, in particular, to clarify if the suspension of operation is temporary or permanent.

Affected workers were also asking that in case of OPI’s temporary closure, to provide them with financial assistance equivalent to one month of their salary to lessen the impact of the abrupt loss of income.

They were also demanding to have a written agreement with the company that in case the operation resumes and there will be workers who decide not to return to OPI  they shall be paid  their separation pay as provided by law.

Lastly, official notice to return to work shall be made through electronic mail and postal mail and not through text messages or the use of Facebook.

Dark Days Ahead

After WAC posted the protest action of the OPI workers through Facebook, the Korean House of International Solidarity (KHIS), a South Korean Non-Government Organization (NGO) which monitors multi-national companies especially South Korean investors regarding their labor laws compliance and business conduct in the countries they are located at, responded promptly.

According to KHIS, they were able to talk through phone with a company officer from Optis Co., Ltd. – OPI’s mother company in South Korea and were told that the Optis is in a very bad financial state.

It was revealed that in 2014, Optis acquired 49.9% share of Toshiba Group of Company’s stake in Toshiba Samsung Storage Technology Korea (TSST-K) a wholly-owned subsidiary of TSST in South Korea. TSST is a joint venture between Toshiba and Samsung where the former owns 51% while the latter holds 49% ownership. Transfer of ownership of Toshiba’s stake in TSST, according to Toshiba and TSST-K press release, will be not be completed until 2017.

However, Optis’ acquisition was made after the fact that optical disc drives (ODD) demand has been declining worldwide which is also the reason why Toshiba and Samsung are selling their stakes in the ODD industry.

Optis was on aggressive business expansion since 2012 through business acquisitions. On the said year, it acquired Smart EMS Philippines, Inc. (SEPHIL), Samsung’s ODD maker in the Philippines.

In July 2015, Optis and SOLiD Inc., South Korea’s network equipment manufacturer, formed a consortium and took over Pantech Co. Ltd. which was at the brink of bankruptcy. Optis gained 4% ownership while Solid holds 96% control over the South Korean’s third largest smartphone maker.

Pantech, according to various online news articles, was already under court receivership since 2014 until the takeover was approved by the Seoul Central District Court.

Likewise, Toshiba Corporation filed for corporate rehabilitation on May 12, 2016 also in Seoul Central District Court regarding its control in TSST-K. TSST-K’s liabilities total approximately, according to a press release, ¥9.0B.

Thus, Optis filed for court receivership due to excessive debt it incurred in acquiring Pantech and, ODD products globally, its main business, was generally on a decline since 2014 due to the rise of mobile memory cards.

Receivership, according to Investopedia, is a type of corporate bankruptcy in which a receiver is appointed by bankruptcy courts or creditors to run the company.

False Hopes, Deceit

Optis’ situation in South Korea means that OPI workers in the Philippines cannot hope for the best for the company to resume operation until August 1, 2016.

OPI management recently offered its workers a Voluntary Separation Program (VSP). In a released memorandum dated May 30, the management said that workers who would apply for the VSP will receive 30% of their separation pay on October 14 while the remaining 70% on December 29 of the year.

The memorandum, however, offered no basis of computation for the separation pay. Also, the memorandum is quiet on the fate of contractual workers who have been working  in OPI for more than a year.

Included in the memorandum was that the company is welcome to absorb the workers who have applied for VSP if they choose to remain should the company start operation again.

According to OPI workers, most of them had already applied for the VSP because they were afraid that they won’t get paid if the company closes down permanently. Besides, they believe that the company is just giving them false hopes and the August 1 resumption of operation is nothing but a deceptive move to buy time before declaring permanent closure due to bankruptcy in October, the sixth month of temporary closure, which is allowed by law.

As of now, management said to workers that Banco De Oro (BDO), the biggest commercial bank in the country, froze OPI assets and accounts and put its own security guard in the premises of the company since May.

Although, the workers said that a small portion connected to the OPI plant was operating and making phone units under the name of OSMPI. Optis acquisition of debt-ridden Pantech should explain the ‘strange separate operation’. In an online article by Maeil Business News Korea published on May 26, industry observers believed that Pantech would start commercial production of its new smartphone model IM-100 this June.

Meanwhile, in a recent consultation with OPI workers, they revealed that the company regularly and compulsory deducts an average of P30 from their wages every payday for funeral donation. A worker who brought along her pay slips with her showed that it was collected from her since 2010. They added that only P15,000 were  given from the amount collected to the bereaved family of the worker. They also said that the compulsory deduction was a ‘practice’ even before the plant relocated in GBP in 2012. The workers are asking, “where will the millions of money go now if ever the company ceases operations?”

For WAC, all the remaining money from deduction for funeral donation should be given back to all workers. The money should be fully accounted for and disclosed by the management.

The OPI management had already amassed a huge amount of money supposed to be for the bereaved worker’s family. OPI total workforce peaked at 7,000 workers from 2012 to 2014.

Optis Co., Ltd. was founded by its CEO Mr. Ju Hyung Lee who built his career around Samsung Electronics before he established his own company in 2005. According to its website (www.optis.co.kr), it established its manufacturing plant in the Philippines months before 2005 ended but partnered first with Yu Jin Optical Electronics, Inc. – a company located at Cavite Export Processing Zone in Rosario, Cavite.

Its Philippine subsidiary, Optical Solutions Manufacturing Philippines, Inc. (OSMPI), changed its name to OPI in December 2006. OPI operated in Carmelray Industrial Park II, Calamba City, Laguna.

Optis established its second plant in Calamba Premiere Industrial Park (CPIP) in Batino, still in Laguna province, before it transferred operation in GBP four years ago due to its acquisition of SEPhil also in Batino.

SEPHIL, on the other hand, according to workers, had shut down and paid its workers their separation pay before OPI declared its suspension of operation.

Upon OPI’s relocation, it brought along thousands of its workers mostly women who already spent six years working in the company to Gen. Trias, Cavite. The transfer stirred local residents in the surrounding communities to put up for rent spaces to accommodate the exodus of workers.

OPI manufactures optical pick-up devices used for optical disc drives to its main customer TSST-K.