As the Federal Guild Association of the Building Cleaning Trade, we represent around 85 percent of the industry market in Germany with our 2,500 member companies. We represent the interests of our trade vis-à-vis all relevant authorities and institutions, politics and the public at the national and European level.
The pandemic had a major impact on our association work. Never before have the Federal Guild Association, and especially the state associations and guilds, informed their members so quickly, precisely, and comprehensively from morning to night. To make matters worse, there have been virtually no face-to-face meetings since spring 2020. We relied exclusively on telephone, e-mail and video technology during this phase. Face-to-face exchanges are irreplaceable, but in terms of results, it worked very well. The COVID-19 crisis has brought the Federal Guild Association and its associated guilds even closer together.
Due to the progress of vaccinations and the seasonal decrease of COVID infections, we were finally able to hold our first general meeting in July 2021 in person; more than 130 delegates came to Berlin (Photo 1). A highlight of this meeting was the awarding of the "Handwerkszeichen in Gold" to Federal Guild Master Thomas Dietrich (Photo 2). This is the highest award that exists in the German skilled crafts sector. In his laudatory speech, Hans Peter Wollseifer, the crafts president, emphasized the decades-long commitment of Federal Guild Master Thomas Dietrich to the building cleaning trade. He said: "For decades, Thomas Dietrich has been using his head, hand and heart to promote Germany's most employable craft. He promotes his industry and gives it a face." Thomas Dietrich was President of the WFBSC in 2016 and 2017.
In July of this year, we also moved to new, larger premises in the heart of Berlin. For more than half a century, our association has maintained its federal office in Bonn, and for many years, in parallel, the capital city office. Now, two contact points in North Rhine-Westphalia and Berlin have been merged into a new, central federal office in a prime strategic location and a short distance from the German Confederation of Skilled Crafts, the Bundestag, the Chancellor's Office and the most important federal ministries.
Let's take a look at the economic impact of the pandemic: So far, our trade has come through the pandemic with a "black eye". We ended 2020 with a slight drop in sales of 0.6 percent compared to 2019. With entire pillars of the economy such as hospitality, tourism, the event industry and retail having collapsed, and home office regulations also emptying many offices, there have been some dramatic drops in sales for many cleaning companies. On the other hand, there have been additional orders and increased cleaning intervals in the health and care sector, but also in schools or daycare centers.
The biggest challenge for every single company was and is to manage the pandemic sustainably. A quarter of the companies in our association survey had to lay off employees at least temporarily in 2020. In spring 2020, almost 60% of businesses had registered for short-time work. One-third of the companies have taken advantage of government crisis support. These figures underpin the fact that this crisis has been, and continues to be, a huge effort for businesses. The political support instruments were important, but equally complex. As an association, we have tried to clear this bureaucratic jungle for our members as best we can. The outlook for the current year 2021 is also cautious: According to our economic survey, 70% of the companies surveyed expect sales to remain the same or fall compared to the previous year. A quarter expect sales to grow.
On the other hand, the crisis has shown how systemically relevant our industry is for the functioning of the German economy and for our health. In this sense, the pandemic has brought our skilled trades a high level of social esteem. We commissioned a representative survey in spring 2020: According to the survey, a total of 96% of respondents in Germany consider the work of building cleaning very important or important in the current Corona crisis. In other words, cleanliness, hygiene and disinfection are on the rise. Companies and the public sector have also understood that good cleaning contributes to the health protection of employees. Especially in sensitive areas, in clinics, nursing homes and intensive care units, our clients have acted responsibly and increased cleaning intervals. School boards and companies have ordered extra shifts even during ongoing operations. We have been fighting for this so-called day cleaning and thus for more visibility of our industry for years. The pandemic has led to an initial rethink here.
In addition, we hope that the pandemic will also provide a tailwind for recruiting employees. In the fall of 2020 - in the middle of the crisis - we concluded a three-year collective agreement with the union. We have sent a clear signal in the interests of our skilled trades. Our industry minimum wage will rise by a total of 10.7% over the term to 12 euros per hour from 2023, putting us well above the general statutory minimum wage in Germany. In our view, our skilled trades currently have more attractive conditions for entry and advancement than ever before.
It is our task as an association to preserve the image plus beyond the pandemic period. We are continuing to move forward at a good pace here: we launched a social media campaign in connection with the pandemic in 2020. Since this year, we have been running our image campaign and, in parallel, a broad-based training campaign. We have relaunched our training website in this context. In addition, this year we are making our first experiences with our own podcast. So we're also really doing a lot in the area of communications, press and public relations, marketing and vocational training.
Last but not least, the German parliamentary elections are due in the fall of 2021. One thing is certain: Chancellor Angela Merkel will no longer lead our country after 16 years. All parties are closely aligned. In this context, we as an association are currently holding many political discussions. Together with our member companies, we have drawn up 10 top demands. For example, we need the digitization of the administration quickly, we do not need tax increases, but on the contrary more flexibility and less bureaucracy for companies.
One thing is certain: These are and will remain very exciting economic and political times for the association and for our industry.