Zivildienst in Austria

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Badge of Zivildienst (Austria, 1982)

The Zivildienst (German, translated verbatim to "Civilian Service", but "compulsory paid community service" is more contextually equivalent) is the alternative service for national military service in the Austrian Armed Forces. Officially called Zivildienstleistender (ZDL) it is common to call them Zivi or Zivildiener. Since 1975, drafted men may refuse the military service on conscientious reasons and serve in the alternative civilian service instead. This generally involves work in social services like hospitals, youth organisations, nursing homes, rescue services, the ambulance service, and care of the disabled. The service usually lasts nine months. About a third of the drafted male citizens in Austria choose this option (13,510 in 2011[1]) by declaring a conflict of conscience.


The compulsory community service was introduced under the Kreisky II cabinet in 1975 due to pressure by pacifist groups. The military was pleased by the development, because it led to fewer disruptions of military service due to pacifists refusing weapons. Once an Austrian has completed compulsory community service, he is exempt from military service for life, and can therefore never be called for military duty.

Though compulsory community service is firmly anchored in the constitution together with military service, it is supposed to be reserved for exceptional cases. Originally, conscientious objectors had to explain their doubts in front of a commission, which would determine whether or not they would be sent to the Zivildienst. The compulsory community service lasted eight months, the same length as military service. The law was amended in 1991 so that objectors only need to declare their objection, rather than facing a commission. As a result, the number of objectors rose, so the length of the civilian service was increased in stages: first to 10 months in 1992; then 11 months; then 12 months in 1997 (including two weeks of holidays).

Between 1 April 2002 and 30 September 2005, the Zivildienstverwaltungs GmbH, organized as an affiliated limited liability company of the Austrian Red Cross, was responsible for distributing compulsory service personnel on behalf of the Austrian Federal Ministry of the Interior. This ended after the Austrian Constitutional Court demanded this activity as part of government and its integration into the interior ministry. Since October 2005, the Agency for the Alternative Civil Service (in German: Zivildienstagentur), which is responsible to the interior ministry, handles all issues regarding the compulsory community service.

In 2004, the term of military service was reduced to six months, as recommended by a reform commission. Accordingly, the length of compulsory community service was adapted to nine months in 2006. Compulsory community service personnel, however, have the option to add another three months to their service for better pay through a private contract.

In 2008, just over 12,000 young men served the Zivildienst in Austria. In 2009, it was 13,122. In 2010, it was 12,981. In 2011, it was 13,510. Women are not obliged to serve in the military and are therefore also exempt from civilian service which is, after all, only a substitute for military service.

Institutions using Zivildienst personnel[edit]

The most compulsory community service draftees have to work for the Austrian Red Cross. Beyond that, a higher number of compulsory community service personnel has to work in the care of the elderly and in hospitals. Further organisations are, for example, Emergency medical services, kindergartens, fire brigades, in communities as crossing guards and other social organisations which care for the disabled or refugees. Some small numbers have to work in agriculture.

Voluntary services as an alternative to the regular Zivildienst[edit]

Austrian Service Abroad[edit]

Since 1992, Austrian conscripts have the opportunity to work abroad. Andreas Maislinger took the idea from the German Action Reconciliation Service for Peace and founded the Austrian Service Abroad (in German: Auslandsdienst). This service is not part of the regular alternative civilian service, but a substitute to the regular Zivildienst which exempts its participants from the compulsory community service. These positions are very popular, so participants often have to wait for years in order to receive one. The Austrian Service Abroad lasts twelve months and can be served in three different services:

Austrian Holocaust Memorial Service[edit]

The German name is Gedenkdienst (for Memorial Service). The organization takes care of victims of Nazism.[2]

Austrian Social Service[edit]

The Austrian Social Service supports the social and economic development of a country. It can be done at various deployment locations that are operated by a multitude of partner organisations.

Austrian Peace Service[edit]

The Austrian Peace Service service can be provided in five accepted partner organizations, which are in China, Israel, Japan or the Netherlands. Goal is to spend a year in those countries and understand the enormous complexity of the conflicts and to make a little contribution to the lasting assurance of peace.

European Voluntary Service[edit]

Volunteering in the European Voluntary Service (EVS) for a minimum of 10 months is accepted as an alternative service to the regular Zivildienst since 2016.[3]

Voluntary ecological year[edit]

Since 2013 it is possible to volunteer for the program of the voluntary ecological year (in German: Freiwilliges Umweltjahr / FUJ) for a minimum period of 10 months instead of the Zivildienst. The FUJ is an educational and orientation year for teenagers and young adults.[4]

Voluntary social year[edit]

Since 2016 it is possible to volunteer for a minimum of 10 months for the program of the voluntary social year (in German: Freiwilliges Soziales Jahr / FSJ) as an alternative to the regular Zivildienst. The reasons to join this program is, that you have some benefits, but it takes a few months longer than the Zivildienst.[5]

Compensation for Food[edit]

There has been years-long controversy in Austria as to the compensation for food of compulsory community service personnel. In 2001, an amendment to the law gave users of alternative civil service draftees a duty to ensure the proper nutrition of Zivildienst personnel, but did not define what "proper nutrition" entails.

As a result, many users of compulsory community service personnel chose to pay only €6.00 EUR per day in compensation for food, resulting in many protests and complaints. In the opinion of compulsory community service personnel, €6.00 EUR per day is insufficient to guarantee proper nutrition. As a result, the issue was taken to the courts in October 2005. The judgement agreed that €6.00 EUR per day is insufficient, and determined that an appropriate amount would be between €11.26 EUR and €13.60 EUR per day. This is the same amount to which military personnel are entitled.

Weapon ban[edit]

compulsory community service draftees are banned from owning or carrying weapons for fifteen years after completing their compulsory service, which could impact negatively on their future employability. Those who served the Zivildienst were also forbidden from later joining the police service in Austria. However, the law was amended in 2010 to introduce certain circumstances under which the weapon ban could be lifted to pursue a career with the police forces. This involves former alternative civilian service personnel making a declaration that their conscientious doubts are over.[6]

See also[edit]