Civilian alternative service in Austria

Volunteer puts his hand on the arm of an elderly person
Photo: ASBÖ / Lipinsky

About forty percent of the young Austrians opt to do civilian alternative service instead of basic military service. Which fields of operation exist in this respect, which figures are known regarding civilian alternative service, and how young men as well as the society profit from civilian alternative service will be explained by this article.

General information on civilian alternative service

In Austria compulsory military service applies to all male citizens. However, instead of basic military service young men can also opt for civilian alternative service, if they cannot square it with their conscience to use armed force against humans.

Persons doing the civilian alternative service are employed in fields serving civil defence or the general welfare. The work should be similarly exhausting for those doing civilian alternative service as for those doing military service. However, the activities must not include the use of force against humans.

As substitute military service civilian alternative service can only be done by male Austrian citizens who were assessed as being fit for military service at the army medical examination. Those who want to do civilian alternative service instead of military service must submit in time a civilian alternative service declaration. The civilian alternative service lasts for nine month and has to be completed in one piece. Until their 35th birthday men can be assigned to (ordinary) civilian alternative service.

Statistics around civilian alternative service

General figure on civilian alternative service

In the course of the past few years about 40 percent of those liable to enlistment have opted in favour of civilian alternative service. By the way, in 2019 16,000 young men decided in favour of basic military service and about 10,000 young men were unfit for military service. 

In which fields persons doing civilian alternative service are employed 

Persons doing civilian alternative service are employed in around 1,600 respective alternative civilian service institutions (as of 2019). The major part of them is doing its service for the society in the field of rescue services (around 40 percent), followed by social assistance and assistance for handicapped persons (30 percent) and care for elderly people (10 percent). Moreover, persons doing civilian alternative service are also employed as assistance on farms, in hospitals, in the fields of civil protection and disaster control, in refugee care and in kindergartens. All in all the notified need for persons doing civilian service can be covered at about 90 percent.

Positive effects of civilian alternative service

How young men themselves profit from civilian alternative service

In surveys many young men indicate that their civilian service had a positive effect on their abilities and competencies. What is mentioned particularly frequently by those doing civilian alternative service in this context is the ability to work in a team, self-motivation and resilience. Moreover, understanding, empathy for sick and elderly people and people with handicaps are mentioned frequently, as well as communication and dealing with less-favoured groups. Most young men are also convinced that they will also benefit from the abilities gained within the framework of their civilian alternative service is the course of their vocational training and their career. Some of those doing civilian alternative service indicated also that they were feeling better integrated into the society and needed.

Civilian alternative service is important for the Austrian regions and for the society as a whole

However, the fact that the young men are developing certain abilities by means of civilian alternative service is not only important for themselves. The society as a whole benefits from the increased competences in the social and health sectors and the better understanding for less-favoured groups, because the young men frequently continue with their activities at their emergency response organisations even after their civilian alternative service. All regions in Austria depend on civilian alternative service, every town and every village needs persons doing civilian alternative service.

More information on civilian alternative service

As civilian alternative service is also regional service it falls within the sphere of competence of the Federal Ministry of Agriculture, Regions and Tourism. The Civilian Alternative Service Agency (Zivildienstserviceagentur ZISA) is responsible for the operational handling of the civilian alternative service. Information and contact addresses are available at www.​zivildienst.​gv.​at