Overview > "Zivildienst" in Austria


In Austria, men at the age of 18 have the choice between an eight month long military service and an alternative military service (called "Zivildienst") which lasts for one year where one has to do community service such as working in old people's homes and hospitals, helping disabled persons, or working in the ambulance service (e.g. Red Cross, Arbeiter-Samariter-Bund). Personally, I was on duty at the latter (see "My Time as a 'Zivildiener'").

Right at the beginning of my "Zivildienst" (in February 2000), a three-week basic training, where we were (apart from first aid) also taught in subjects like political education, civil defense, and emergency aid, was compulsory for all persons fulfilling their "Zivildienst" ("Zivildiener" / ZDLs). This training is designed for the purpose of preparing the "Zivildiener" for a possible mission at times of severe accidents or extreme states of emergency during a so-called "extrordinary Zivildienst".

During the first four month (including May 2000) the "Zivildiener" received a basic pay of 2.358,– ATS (171,36 € / approx. 210,– US$) per month as well as 155,– ATS (11,26 € / approx. 14,– US$) per day (in the form of vouchers) for buying food.

© Zivildienst.at

More pictures of the demonstration
may be found in the Picture Gallery

After the amendment to the "Zivildienstgesetzes" (law concerning the "Zivildienst" / ZDG) in spring 2000, however, the financial conditions for ZDLs became much worse:
Starting from June 1, 2000, the money for food was cut to the bone: We just received 43,– ATS (3,12 € / approx. 3,85 US$) per day. Because of this enormous financial setback, the "Zivildiener" tried to draw attention to their situation with the help of a warning strike and a demonstration in order to achieve an abandonment of the mentioned amending law:
On Monday, May 8, 2000, we took part in a warning strike lasting for three hours, after being granted permission by our superiors at the ASB Floridsdorf to do so (as "Zivildiener" do not have the freedom of strike).
On June 5, a demonstration with about 250 participants took part in the City of Vienna, for which we were again released from work by our superiors at the Arbeiter-Samariter-Bund Floridsdorf-Donaustadt. Furthermore, a list of 16.811 people supporting our claims was given to the then President of the National Council Heinz Fischer.
However, our protest did not lead to the desired goal – we still received just 43,– ATS for food per day.

The Department of the Interior even presented a Catering Proposal based on the recommendation of the Civil Defense Corps by which Secretary of the Interior Strasser wanted to prove that one can buy food for 43 ATS per day in order to get a decent breakfast, one hot meal and a supper, and is even able to live healthy. By the way: This proposal was based on a list which is a Recommandation for Food Supply in case of a natural or ecological disaster for a person not leaving their living quarters for two weeks! Furthermore, a study of the Institute of Nutrition Science at the University of Vienna revealed that (contrary to the claims of the minister) this nourishment would lead to a lack of vitality, dietary fibre, vitamin A, vitamin D, vitamin E, vitamin B2, Pantothen acid, biotin, folic acid, vitamin C, copper, iodine and zinc!
Apart from the financial setback, the amending law also led to several other changes: For example, the basic training mentioned above was cancelled without substitution, and the number of new "Zivildiener" was drastically reduced: In June, only organisations like the Arbeiter-Samariter-Bund and the Red Cross were assigned a certain number of new ZDLs. In October, "Zivildiener" were merely "sold". That is to say, some organisations were able to "buy" a "Zivildiener" for about 10.000,– ATS (approx. 730,– € / approx. 890,– US$) per month.

In order to improve the financial conditions of the "Zivildiener" (at least those living in Vienna) a little bit, the town council of Vienna eventually granted all "Zivildiener" living in Vienna a benefit payment (!) of 1052,– ATS (76,45 € / approx. 94,– US$) per month (between July and December 2000).

At the Constitutional Court (VfGH) a claim was lodged against this amending law, which I also joined. In the beginning of December 2001, the court finally decided that the changes had been unconstitutional. In the press notice it says:

On December 6, 2001, the Constitutional Court has determined that the regulations in question were unconstitutional.

The amending law led to a inadequate supply of the affected "Zivildiener" as the raised basic pay did not make up for the cut concerning the money for food. Therefore, the right to choose between military service and "Zivildienst" guaranteed in the constitution was violated, for the state did no longer fulfil its obligation concerning the supply of "Zivildiener", resp. because fulfilling the "Zivildienst" was in fact (significantly) hampered during that period.

Financially, this decision should mean that at least those 200 "Zivildiener", who joined the claim, should get some money (112,– ATS / 8,14 € / approx. 10,– US$ per day, to be exact) repaid. However, there are different legal conceptions concerning the question who is responsible for this payment, and it was unfortunately not possible to arrive at an amicable arrangement with the Department of the Interior. This is why another lawsuit at the VfGH has become necessary. Unfortunately, the Constitutional Court disclaimed competence and therefore dismissed this case. Hence, one had to wait for the outcome of an appellate proceeding against a decision of the "Zivildienstverwaltungs-GmbH" referring to this, before one could once again lodge a claim at the VfGH. Because of this, the legal proceeding was delayed for quite some time. In October 2004, the VfGH finally decided in favour of the plaintiff. Moreover, in January 2005 an agreement could be reached with the new Secretary of the Interior, Liese Prokop, who followed Ernst Strasser after his resignation in December 2004. Therefore, the about 50 "Zivildiener" involved which did not give up during the four years finally got their money in mid February 2005.

With another amending law which enterd into force as from January 1, 2001, the catering of "Zivildiener" was again changed: Now, the organisations which employ "Zivildiener" have to see to an adequate catering. For me (as I was working for the Samariter Bund) this meant that I received 80,– ATS (5,81 € / approx. 7,15 US$) per day – more than 43,– ATS (3,12 € / approx. 3,85 US$) per day, but still not as much as 155,– ATS (11,26 € / approx. 14,– US$) per day like before the amendment to the "Zivildienstgesetz" in 2000.

In the meantime, it was confirmed by the Constitutional Court that this regulation is indeed constitutional. However, it was also determined that the state has the responsibility guaranteed in the constitution to assure the adequate supply of the 'Zivildiener'. Moreover, the Constitutional Court arrived at the decision that one can determine what one should understand by 'adequate catering'. In this regard, the Constitutional Court refers to a former regulation by the Secretary of the Interior. (This regulation lastly mentioned 155,– ATS as an appropriate payment for three meals per day.)
Another point of reference for the money for food mentioned by the Constitutional Court is the allowance paid to men fulfilling their basic military service if they do not receive their meals in the barracks (13,60 € / approx. 16,70 US$).

To sum up, a "Zivildiener" should receive between 11,26 € (approx. 14,– US$) (according to the catering regulation in effect between 1994 and 2000) and 13,60 € (approx. 16,70 US$). If one has received less money than that, one may assert one's claims even retroacting. However, the "Zivildienstverwaltungs-GmbH" and the Secretary of the Interior have declared that they are not willing to accept these claims. However, on November 15, 2005, the Constitutional Court determined (again) that the aforesaid 13,60 € (approx. 16,70 US$) can be considered as adequate, even though in some occasions this amount may be reduced a little bit (e.g. if one spends the whole working day in the same place). What is more, it was especially made clear once more that is the responsibility of the state to assure the adequate supply of the "Zivildiener". Judging from the experiences during the last few years, this does not mean that the situation of the "Zivildiener" will change immediately, but at least one more step has been taken in the right direction.

More informationen about this subject may be found on the internet, especially on the pages of Zivildienst.at (in German).

Currency rates EUR/US$ as of August 2004