Unemployment increased in 2020 because of the Covid-19 crisis. While unemployment reached the historically low level of 2.9% of the working population at the start of the year, unemployment rose in the course of the year to a peak of 4.6% in August 2020. All in all, unemployment increased by over a third during the calendar year (source: Statistics Netherlands). However, this increase hardly had any effect on the tight labour market for technicians. There is still an acute shortage of technicians in the sectors in which Unica operates, so there has been no let-up in our efforts to maintain the company’s position as an attractive player on the labour market.
The slowdown in economic growth that had been expected in 2020 turned into a major contraction as a result of the pandemic. In the second quarter of 2020, when the first wave of the pandemic peaked, the economy fell by as much as 8.5%. The economy recovered to some extent later in the year, but with a decline of 3.8% over the whole of 2020, the Dutch economy experienced the biggest contraction since the Second World War (source: Statistics Netherlands). This indisputably marks a break in the trend in the economic climate, which will need to recover over the next few years following long-term economic growth. Assuming control over the pandemic is achieved in 2021, economic growth is projected again for 2021 for the economy as a whole. However, it should be noted that there will be substantial differences between sectors: tourism, the hospitality sector and the retail industry, for example, are likely to experience the negative effects of the Covid-19 crisis for longer.
The economic outlook for industry and technology is brighter. Revenue in the construction industry, which tends to be a good indicator of the outlook, showed only a very slight decline of less than 0.5% in the second and third quarters of 2020 (source: Statistics Netherlands). As this sector tends to be affected late in the economic cycle, the negative impact of the Covid-19 crisis is likely to only become visible in 2021 and 2022; Unica will therefore keep a close watch on developments relevant to its project portfolios. Potential permanent effects of the Covid-19 crisis, such as changes to the layout and designated use of buildings, could also give an impulse to activities in the sector.
Despite the Covid-19 crisis, the increase in wages under collective labour agreements was higher in 2020 than it has been for years. After all, nearly three-quarters of the collective labour agreements had already reached an agreement for 2020 as a whole by March of that year. Employees in the industry sector, which includes the metal industry collective labour agreement that applies to Unica, received the biggest increase in 2020 (3.8%).
The Dutch government paid less attention to the measures that were defined in the Climate Agreement and the stricter nitrogen norms in 2020. Nevertheless, the measures will remain relevant in the years ahead and may even become increasingly important in the light of permanent changes following the Covid-19 crisis. More and more organisations are opting for a sustainable transformation or redesign of existing buildings rather than erecting new buildings, offering many opportunities for Unica. However, a decline is expected in the number of new construction projects in the commercial market. The effect on Unica’s results will be small as the share of new construction in the project portfolio had already been reduced considerably in the past few years.