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There is no national programme for youth volunteering in form of a general, nation-wide programme that is organised, funded and monitored by the State. However, a legal basis is provided by the Federal Law to promote voluntary engagement (Freiwilligengesetz), a regulatory framework has been established in 2012 to support this socially important and invaluable contribution.
For young Austrian men who are obliged to serve a 6 month military or 9 month civil service, new opportunities have been provided with the entry into force of the amendment to the Act on Civil Services (Zivildienstgesetz) in 2013 and 2016, which enabled them to fulfill their civil service by acting as a volunteer for 10 months in form of a social year, environmental protection year, a holocaust memorial service, or a peace or social services abroad as defined in the Federal Volunteer Act.
The Department for Families and Youth at the Federal Chancellerypromotes volunteer-specific projects of nationwide importance as well as model projects of volunteer organizations and supports educational, training and quality assurance measures.
The Voluntary Social Year (Freiwilliges Soziales Jahr), the Voluntary Environmental Protection Year (Freiwilliges Umweltjahr) as well as Holocaust Memorial Service (Gedenkdienst), and Peace and Social Services abroad (Friedens- und Sozialdienst im Ausland) are a matter of the national level, whereas the organisation of voluntary activities is rather operated on to the federal state level. Young people in Austria entitled to asylum or subsidiary protection status can participate in the Voluntary Integration Year.
Volunteering in times of the COVID-19 pandemic
Since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, most aspects of daily life have been greatly limited. However, Austria has a remarkable tradition of volunteering and thus 'helping others' was stated as one of the four 'good reasons to leave your house' in the legal provision on personal movement restriction. Volunteering initiatives specifically in the context of COVID-19 and its effects can be found online and are grouped into the following categories:
- services supplying homes (delivery and care services)
- nationwide initiatives (emergency aid, relief agencies for the homeless)
- initiatives for and from businesses (ecommerce, aid for artists and community workers)
- internet-bound initiatives (online culture and sports offers)
- voluntary neighborhood initiatives (neighborhood aid agencies)
- initiatives for children and students (educational opportunities and information)
- province-specific initiatives
There is no national program for youth volunteering, which is a general, nation-wide program, funded by the State.
The financial funding for the Voluntary Social Year, the Voluntary Environmental Protection Year as well as Holocaust Memorial Service, Peace-related and Social Services abroad is provided on the national level, but most volunteer organisation responsible for them are under the autonomy of the non-governmental sector.
The total amount spent on voluntary activities cannot be estimated since a big volume of voluntary activities is set in NGOs like youth organisations which are funded and supported by different public structures. Due to the federal organisation of youth policy, an estimation of financial support cannot be done.
Main sources of finance are the Federal Ministry of Social Affairs, Health, Care and Consumer Protection and the Federal Ministry for European and International Affairs. Furthermore, sources for finance are the departments for youth policy and for social affairs in the nine federal states of Austria. But also big national and international companies and the chamber of commerce and industries fund voluntary activities. Organised on the basis of the private law relating to associations, NGOs have special tax grants because of their public usefulness and non-profit-making. Any compensation for voluntary activities is liable to taxes as all other income.
Regulations that are valid for all volunteers also address young people. With the Recognition Fund for Volunteer Commitment, established in July 2013, an additional option for supporting volunteer activities has been created. This Fund promotes activities and initiatives contributing to the development or implementation of innovative measures, especially activities or initiatives aimed at a sustainable maintenance of volunteer commitment in Austria. The maximum subsidy for such activities or initiatives amounts to EUR 15,000 in the case of an organisation.
Official reports: The Federal Ministry of Social Affairs, Health, Care and Consumer Protection periodically draws up a report on the status and development of a commitment to voluntary work in Austria (Freiwilligenbericht). Three reports have been published so far.
- Level of participation: 43% of people between 15 and 24 are engaged in voluntary activities in Austria; declining trend (numbers for 2016).
- One publication by the Austrian Integration Fund (Österreischicher Integrationsfonds, ÖIF) covers volunteers with migration background.
- There is no big difference between formal and informal voluntary engagement. The highest numbers in the formal area are in the field of sports (29%), emergency aid (27%) and conservation, nature protection and animal welfare (22%).
Financial support for voluntary work in the field of extracurricular children's and youth work is possible according to the Federal Youth Promotion Act, the EU programme ERASMUS+ and through the federal states.
The 'voluntary social year' (freiwilliges soziales Jahr, FSJ) offers
- an interesting and carefully selected job site
- pedagogical support and support during the assignment
- free meals during the mission
- free accommodation or travel cost reimbursement for public transport
The FSJ is defined in the volunteer law as an apprenticeship, which is why the FSJ also offers following advantages:
- family allowance (provided the eligibility requirements are met)
- seminar weeks or seminar days for preparation and reflection of the assignment as well as for further training, a total of 18 seminar days
- a monthly pocket money of € 245, - net
- cheap youth network card of the respective transport association
- health, accident and pension insurance
- leave days analogous to the holiday law (23 days off for 11 months of employment, 21 days off for 10 months of use)
The Youth Information Centers: Counselling and support
An important concern of youth information is to support young people's own initiative. To this end, the Austrian Youth Information Centres inform young people about the many different opportunities for volunteering at home and abroad. The relevant publications of the Youth Information Centres as well as on-site counselling are to serve as a guide for young people in their search for a suitable voluntary commitment or place of work. On the other hand, the Youth Information Centres support young people in successfully implementing their project ideas and voluntary projects within the framework of 'Your projects' ("EureProjekte") and similar initiatives and programmes. EureProjekte enables young people between 14 and 24 to put their project ideas into practice. Young people receive start-up funding of up to 500 euros, for projects focusing on 'climate protection and sustainability' currently up to 750 euros, as well as advice from the local youth information office. By the end of 2018, more than 350 projects had been launched, reaching around 16,000 people.
Open Youth Work
In open youth work, young people should be guided to take responsibility themselves and find professional support in implementing their goals and ideas. Many facilities have their own focus projects, such as 'role reversal', where young people 'take over' the facility for a week. Furthermore, some youth centres also accept European volunteers who want to do their voluntary service in youth centres.
The Federal Ministry of Social Affairs, Health, Care and Consumer Protection is mainly responsible for QA of voluntary activities. In general, the voluntary organisations are responsible for evaluating technical supervision, practical supervision and educational guidance and have to present their QA reports to the Ministry either every three years or by request. The Health and Safety Executive investigates all organisations.
- In co-operation with the Austrian Volunteer Council, the Federal Ministry of Social Affairs, Health, Care and Consumer Protection periodically draws up a report on the status and development of a commitment to voluntary work in Austria. Three reports have been published so far.
- There is no common feedback mechanism for young volunteers
- As all organisations are responsible for QA, there is no official report for all
- Surveys concerning the participation of special target groups are undertaken. Some projects were launched to especially address people with migration background. These projects are either initiated or supported by national authorities
Apart from the Voluntary Integration Year, all young people are addressed and no special target groups are defined.