Sickness absence among Dutch employees has not been as high since 2002 as in the last three months of last year, the Central Bureau of Statistics (CBS) reports Thursday.

Most sickness reports came from care workers in nursing homes, who have been reported to be struggling with corona infections among staff for some time.

Absenteeism in the fourth quarter of 2020 was 4.9 percent, which means that 49 days were lost per thousand working days due to sickness reports.

In the closing quarter of 2019, absenteeism was still 4.4 percent.

According to chief economist Peter Hein van Mulligen of Statistics Netherlands, the corona virus has most likely caused a significant increase.

"In terms of trends, absenteeism has been increasing for longer, probably due to the aging of the population, because older employees are sick for longer on average. But this is so much more, it can hardly be explained in any other way than by corona."

At 6.8 percent, healthcare was the sector with the highest absenteeism due to illness, with an outlier of 8.2 percent in nursing and care homes.

"These are the typical corona fireplaces. They are places where people quickly light each other," says Van Mulligen.

In recent months, interest groups for Dutch healthcare workers have already drawn attention to the, in their view, untenable pressure that absenteeism is putting on staff.

It was therefore an often-cited argument to vaccinate healthcare personnel against the corona virus as soon as possible.

Sickness absence reaches its highest level in 18 years

The catering industry also sees high absenteeism

The catering industry saw the fastest increase in absenteeism of all branches of industry.

This rose to 4.3 percent, from 2.8 percent a year earlier.

Never before has the share of sick leave in the catering industry increased so quickly.

"It is actually still a big question what the cause is, because many catering establishments were actually closed", says Van Mulligen.

Not all sectors had to deal with increasing absenteeism due to illness.

It actually fell among civil servants.

According to Statistics Netherlands, this could be because measures to prevent corona infections, such as working from home, are better followed up by the government.

Despite the pandemic, absenteeism due to illness at the end of 2020 was not as high as at the turn of the century.

Worrying absenteeism figures forced the government to introduce legislative changes in 2002 to get sick staff to work more quickly.

After that year a period of years of declines in absenteeism began.