The voluntary social year (FSJ) is a voluntary service in the social sector. In Germany it is offered to juveniles and young adults, who have finished school (compulsory education) and are not yet aged 27; that is prior to their 27th anniversary. The regulatory framework of the FSJ is defined in the Gesetz zur Förderung eines freiwilligen sozialen Jahres (Act on the Stimulation of FSJ). The FSJ is subject to Federal State laws.
Since July 2011 the German voluntary service (BFD) is established at federal level additionally to the FSJ.
The voluntary social year and the voluntary ecological year are regulated since June 1st, 2008 in the Act on Youth Voluntary Service (JFDG), better known by the name of FSJ-Law. The legal status of the volunteers is comparable to that of German apprentices. The new federal law on voluntary work does not make any changes to the FSJ.
In 1962 Gertrud Rückert established the „Philadelphischer Dienst“. Female high-school graduates should by the voluntary social year get the possibility of personal and professional orientation prior to their university studies. This was at that time an unknown approach. Community services existed for males only in form of obligatory civilian service. This Philadelphischer Dienst was a precursor and idol for the then statutorily regulated „Freiwilliges Soziales Jahr“. Rückert was awarded the Bavarian Order of Merit in 2003.
Supporting institution and place of assignment
The institutions providing the voluntary social year usually operate supra-regionally. They cooperate with completely different places of assignment. The place of assignment is the actual place, where the volunteers actually serve their voluntary year.
The working hours during the service are determined by the place of assignment. Any public collective agreements including the regulations on working hours per week apply to volunteers as well. In case of no applicable regulation the Arbeitszeitverordnung (Regulation on working hours) becomes decisive.
Salary / remuneration / pocket money
The financial earnings are often called pocket money. This remuneration is complemented by meals, accommodation and reimbursement of travel costs. The amount of pocket money varies between institutions. It often also differs significantly between places of assignment of the same supporting institution. If no accommodation and meals are offered, both is compensated financially. Certain places of assignment, e.g. nurseries are not obliged to offer accommodation. Therefore they also do not have to pay a compensation for it.
Additionally to the remuneration or pocket money respectively child benefits for volunteers aged under 25 are paid during the time of voluntary service according to the Federal Child Benefit Act, see § 2 II 1 No. 2d BKGG. Likewise, they have a right to payment of a half-orphan’s pension.
The FSJ-Law defines that the volunteers receive an educational supervision, provided by the supporting institution. The educational supervision includes on the one hand individual support of the participants and on the other hand workshops: an introductory, a mid-term and a final workshop. These workshops take at least five days each. The workshops in total have to cover 25 days at minimum for a FSJ of 12 months. The workshop time is regarded as working hours. Besides, the participation in the workshops is obligatory. It is also important to know that the volunteers are actively involved in the organization of their workshops.
Depending on the sector of assignment and the supporting institution, the volunteers additionally may receive necessary further training. If the voluntary social year is served in the sports sector, the volunteer usually receives a complete training as instructor. Volunteers engaging in rescue services receive training for emergency assistance. The supporting institution usually pays the complete training costs.
Sectors of assignment in the FSJ
Any sectors of assignment fall into charitable community work. The FSJ-Law was revised in 2002 and further sectors of assignment were accepted. The FSJ may now also be served in the sectors sports, cultural heritage preservation and culture.
Duration of the FSJ
The voluntary social year takes at least six, but at most 18 months. In exceptional cases the voluntary service can take up to 24 months. In these cases it has to be justified by a special educational concept. For details see here: How long does the FSJ take?
Volunteers of social years are automatically insured with the health insurance and the long-term care insurance. They have a right to child benefit and a tax deduction on children. The latter only holds if the total income does not exceed the actual income. The supporting institution or the place of assignment are obliged to pay all costs for social insurance, which means the employee’s share as well as the employer’s share. The time of the voluntary social year is also taken into account for the pension insurance.
FÖJ – voluntary ecological year
The voluntary year can also be served as a voluntary ecological year – FÖJ.