AS we revisit the Amplats dozen, the 12 000 fired and
rehired, we do so with an unhealthy dose of schadenfreude. As detailed in my
post two weeks ago 'you're f/ hired' the title proved
to be prescient and not surprisingly so.
Both sides of the table understood that workers would be
rehired but the conditions of returning to work this time are fundamentally
The stakes are now clear; organised labour may be able to
halt industry but to do so their members need fall on the sword, not an
To recap on the different strategies employed by Amplats vs
Lonmin discussed in the above-mentioned Op-Ed, Lonmin believed they were in
wage negotiations and played the economic strategy to their detriment.
Amplats, with the benefit of hindsight, understood that they
were in a political brawl and played a political strategy where they fired all
striking workers, immediately drawing unions into the final stages of
negotiations, pre-empting a replay of Lonmin's capitulation to disorganised
As predicted with Amplats, once the workers were all fired
and began burning through their cash flows which are handicapped at the best of
times, miners placed pressure on their unions who in turn resorted to flaccid
violence, but union leverage had been neutered and they succumbed to their
members pressures as expected, returning to work, tails between their legs with
no pay increase.
This is good news, because despite unions not being
influenced by logic they are deeply influenced by human nature. Despite not
understanding that any gains made in their short game will haunt their long
game, they understood that mines could survive without production for longer
than miners without wages.
So the miner burn rate, the rate at which they consume cash
is essentially 100% in 1 month, a useful fact for anyone negotiating in this
Even more fundamental, the industry as a whole will need to
factor this 'Marikana margin' into their risk strategies. A new paradigm in
South African mining has dawned with the fateful Marikana mess.
Gearing ratios, the indicators of the extent to which
companies are leveraged with debt will need to be lowered; anticipating strikes
much like routine shutdowns.
Mines will look to the financial sector for precedence;
banks are all too familiar with the false comfort of statistical probability.
Once upon a time Wall Street took comfort in the belief that black swans and
ten sigma events were mythical creatures like unicorns, events whose likelihood
were once in ten thousand years, i.e. never.
Unfortunately, ten thousand years is shorter than it used to
be and as it turns out unicorns do exist, we know them as rhinos and historical
risk models have revealed themselves to be equally anti-climactic.
Stockpiles will fundamentally change, be they ore stockpiles
where a solid month supply need be available or downstream stockpiles in
smelting and refining where capacities and constraints will need to conform to
the new paradigm.
Cash stockpiles will also grow; this belt tightening will
impact growth significantly in an industry already reeling from low metals
prices and cyclical downturns in demand.
More cash reserves means less growth, capital adequacy rates
will rise, profits will dim.
Innocuous as this may sound its implications are vast, much
like synergies in a merger means job losses, lower gearing ratios leads to
other polite sounding phenomenon like downsizing, right sizing, stream lining
and reorganizing, none of them good for the knobkerrie squad.
So as they return to their shafts, miners should not be
asking their unions to negotiate higher wages, rather they should demand skills
training because in the near future they will need the latter in the absence of
The South African mining industry and quite possibly that of
all emerging markets will henceforth be viewed through Marikana lenses.
Based on the level of workforce risk in a country the
'Marikana margin' will be applied in an industry with decades long pipelines by
mining houses as they revaluate their strategic roadmap.
New investors may stand on the side-lines for years to come
but let us not forget there are billions already sunk into current
infrastructure and mine bosses will begin fast tracking returns on
investment... stay tuned for a fresh slew of projects involving wham-bam-thank
*Fin24 user Jarred Myers doubles as guest columnist.