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More Voluntariness, Less Obligation

More Voluntariness, Less Obligation

Photo: Older woman during lunch

Lunch is delivered on time at noon, the news are read to the inhabitants of nursing homes and people who suffer from dementia benefit from an extra walk in the park – these things are normally taken over by young men who are doing their civilian service, a replacement for military service in Germany. When they will be doing three months less service from next year on this might cause problems for social services. Two thirds of men doing their civilian service work as caregivers. Especially in this area it is important to establish mutual trust to the people who need assistance. This will not be possible if the men who are doing civilian service have to be replaced every six months.

„It takes time to establish social relationships“, says Thomas Niermann, head of the department Social Work at an association of social movements in Germany, called the “Paritätische”. If one subtracts the one month of statutory job training, some vacation and eventual absence due to illness there will be four months left on average. This short time is hardly worthwile to employ somebody in care, criticizes Niermann.

Benefit of social skills

But not only for social services and the people who are in need of assistance the reduction of the alternative civilian service could cause problems. Also the men who are doing the civilian service could suffer since the civilian service is supposed to be some kind of study time. Niermann points out: “The young men get an unbelievable benefit of social skills.“ It is not unusual that a young man who is doing civilian service changes his primary career aspiration during care for disabled or elderly. Niermann argues that one can get a better picture of social work doing it for nine instead of six months.

Nevertheless there are expressions of opinion with a different view. For example Peter Tobiassen who says: “One can get important experiences even during six months.“ He is managing director of the “Central office for conscientious objectors“, an organization which lobbies the concerns of the men who are doing or planning to do civilian service. Due to his opinion the social services have to think over in which areas it makes sense to occupy young ones who are doing civilian service. “In the field of social care this might be less reasonable but there would be no problems in the area of assisted transport.“

He proposes that the emerging gap of manpower which is necessary to care for a steadily growing number of elderly could be filled in by regular jobs. „One has to look closely at the duties of the men who are doing civilian service. Normally their activities are simple and easy to learn so they can be overtaken by less qualified people who are presently unemployed“, he argues. Therefore no well qualified nursing staff will lose his or her job. Since uneducated staff earns less money than qualified one, more than 40,000 well paid jobs can be provided instead of 65,000 workplaces for men who are doing civilian service.

Upgrade the voluntary year of social service

But first the government has to provide the regulatory framework for that. At the moment, the government and social services share the costs for the men who are doing civilian service. 650 million Euros of the total cost of 1.1 billion Euros per year are funded by federal government the rest is paid by the social service themselves. If regular jobs are to replace the men who are doing civilian service, these jobs have to be subsidized, too. In the other case social service are in duty to bear all the costs for them.


Photo: Young woman supports older woman

Niermann reckons that a change to a system of subsidized regular jobs would be quite difficult. That is the reason why he is not convinced by this proposal. At the same time he warns to fill the gap of manpower in care with people who are forced to work for one Euro per hour by the employment office. “These people have no choice. But especially the work in social service has to be a voluntary decision” argues Niermann. The civilian service is a compulsory service but people who do the civilian service have the choice between very different jobs. That is why Niermann proposes to upgrade the voluntary year of social service, which is also open for women.

This idea makes also sense for Tobiassen. Every year there are 40,000 jobs offered in Germany, “the number of applicants is two to three times higher” he says. He adds that the volunteers would stay for one year and the number is amenable to planning. Only a few of them would quit their job ahead of time, for example if they are offered a college place earlier than expected. This alternative would at least solve the problem of frequently changing attachment figures.


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