Civil conscription is the obligation of civilians to perform mandatory labour for the government. This kind of work has to correspond with the exceptions in international agreements, otherwise it could fall under the category of unfree labour. There are two basic kinds of civil conscriptions. On the one hand, a compulsory service can be ordered on a temporary basis during wartimes and other times of emergency, like severe economic crisis or extraordinary natural events to provide basic services to the population. These include, but are not limited to, medical care, food supplies, defense industry supplies or cleanup efforts, following a severe weather or environmental disaster for the duration of the emergency. Therefore, it generally makes striking illegal for the duration of the civil mobilization.[1] On the other hand, a revolving mandatory service may be required for a longer period of time, for example, to ensure community fire protection or to carry out infrastructure work at a local or community level.

Legal situation

Member States (green) of the Convention. ILO members that did not ratify are shown in red

Civil conscription is an exception of the Forced Labour Convention of 1930 of the International Labour Organization (ILO) and therefore unfree labour shall not include:[2]

Types of civil conscription

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The civil conscription services can be classified into three basic types:

Civil conscription due to extraordinary events

In times of extraordinary events, such as in times of war, in economic crisis, in the event of natural disasters or during the occurrence of epidemics or pandemics, a civil duty may be established to perform the tasks deemed necessary by the government for a certain period of time, to ensure the restoration of former status quo. These important tasks include the basic supply of the population, such as medical care, food supply, the defense industry for the duration of the war or a state of emergency, and the removal of damage to the infrastructure after severe weather or environmental disasters.

Civilian conscription for the benefit of the community

A government can order a civil service duty to be performed repetitive for a longer period of time, for example to ensure the fire protection of a municipality or to carry out simple work at the municipal level, that smaller municipalities are unable to do financially or due to lack of manpower.

Civilian duty to strengthen "national values"

Some countries have implemented a compulsory service for younger age groups or educational groups to convey "national values" and to strengthen national cohesion, which in part has to be done in military, social or school-like institutions.

Present-day civil conscription


In Austria in addition to the current mandatory military service for male citizens in the Austrian Armed Forces and the legally connected alternative civilian services, citizens can be conscripted to perform following services:


Code général des collectivités territoriales

According to article L2215-1 of the Code général des collectivités territoriales (General Law of Local Authorities), the prefect of a department may take measures for the municipalities of the respective department to maintain public order, as well as for the prevention of danger in general and for health protection in general.[7] Among other regulations, this law allows to conscript system-preserving professional groups to provide essential services. In 2022, oil refinery workers were required to take up work during a strike to ensure the supply of fuel.[8][9]

Logo of the French Service national universel
État d'urgence sanitaire

During a sanitary state of emergency (French: état d'urgence sanitaire) it is possible to draft personnel of necessary professional groups to combat a health disaster, like during the COVID-19 pandemic in France.[10]

Journée Défense et Citoyenneté

In 1998, the Journée Défense et Citoyenneté (JDC), the "Defence and Citizenship Day", was established by the French President, Jacques Chirac, after suspending the conscription for the military service. It is a one-day program that deals with citizenship, Duty of Remembrance, awareness on defence, army, nation, European issues etc.[11]

Service national universel

In 2019, President Emmanuel Macron introduced a compulsory service, the Service national universel (SNU), the "General National Service", which will be mandatory for all citizens aged 16–25 within the next century. It lasts for one month, the service can be done in both civilian and military institutions. The aim of this general civil conscription is to communicate French values, to strengthen social cohesion and to promote social engagement.[12][13][14]


Federal level

In Germany during a "State of Defence" male citizens could be drafted for the military service in the Bundeswehr or for a mandatory service in the border guard, although conscription is suspended for peacetime. Beside this during the state of defense the constitution allows civil conscription as well, female citizens between the ages of 18 and 55 could be called to perform medical duties, male citizens could be drafted for a service in a civil protection force. If required, the freedom to practice one's profession may be limited.[15] During the state of defense the Federal Employment Agency (BA) receives special powers to order (unemployed) persons to jobs, that cannot be ensured on a voluntary basis. The conscripted persons can be used in following assignments:

State level

Depending on the respective state's legislations and in addition to the - in theory possible - mandatory civil service obligations at the federal legislation level, there are three more civil conscription services possible, that allow communities to draft citizens:

Political discussions and proposals

From time to time there are proposals for civil conscription of all citizens for general (social) services, that are considered to be legally problematic and could violate not only international agreements and the regulations of the German constitution as well, without a constitutional amendment.[17][18][19] Those proposals are the establishment of a Soziales Pflichtjahr (German for "obligatory year of social service") or Bürgerarbeit (German for "citizens´ work"), a workfare-style draft for unemployed persons. In 2020, during the COVID-19 pandemic in Germany the state governments of Lower Saxony and North Rhine-Westphalia planned to establish a compulsory service for doctors and medical staff in the event of an epidemic and the legislative proposals were already in preparation. However, after protests by medical associations and other interest groups, the plans were ceased.[20][21][22][23]

Logo of the Ghanaian National Service Secretariat


In Ghana, students who graduate from accredited university are required by law to do a one-year national service to the country. The National Service Secretariat (NSS) is the Government of Ghana agency mandated to formulate policies and structures for national service. The mandatory civilian service can be fulfilled in youth programs, agriculture, health and local government institutions.[24] There is currently no military conscription in Ghana.[citation needed]


In 1967, in connection with the Six-Day War, the Israeli Knesset passed the "Emergency Labor Service Act" to ensure the supply of essential goods and military equipment. In 1997 and 2020 in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, the law was repeatedly adapted.[25] In the event of a crisis and the implementation of the "Emergency Labor Service Act", the law obliges every resident of Israel, with the exception of police officers, soldiers, pregnant women and mothers of babies, to a compulsory labor service in "essential companies". These essential companies are relevant to the security of the country or are maintaining basic services, such as electricity , water supply, communication and food supply.[26] Employees must appear on time and can be transferred to other offices anytime.


In Nigeria, there is no military conscription, but since 1973 graduates of Nigerian universities and polytechnics are required to serve in the mandatory National Youth Service Corps (NYSC). The Nigerian government wants to involve Nigerian graduates in nation building and the development of the country. The compulsory service lasts one year and graduates are ineligible for employment in governmental establishments (and most private establishments) until they have completed the mandatory service or obtained the relevant exemptions.[citation needed]


Umuganda is a national holiday in Rwanda taking place on the last Saturday of every month for mandatory nationwide community work from 08:00 to 11:00. Participation in umuganda is required by law, and failure to participate can result in a fine. The program was most recently re-established in 2009, and has resulted in notable improvement in the cleanliness of Rwanda.[27][28][29]


During an estado de alarma, the "state of alarm", the Spanish government can impose civil conscription. This duty may extend to all or part of the national territory and to selective professional groups in the event of one of the following serious disturbances of normality:

Poster of the Swiss Civil Defense Museum


In general, the political system in Switzerland is characterized by the so-called militia-system, where civilian service tasks basically are carried out on a part-time basis. Currently, not only the compulsory military service in the Swiss Armed Forces is backed on the militia-system, many political and civilian service duties are maintained by the militia secondary activity. For example, members of cantonal or federal parliaments or governments in general engage on part-time basis.

Unlike to the organization of fire brigades in most countries as professional or voluntary fire departments, in Switzerland there are basically militia fire brigades, compulsory fire brigades with drafted members.

The duty in Swiss civil defense and protection institutions is mandatory for inhabitants as well.[30]

United Kingdom

The British overseas territory of Pitcairn Islands, which has a population of about 50 and no income or sales tax, has a system of "public work" whereby all able-bodied people are required to perform, when called upon, jobs such as road maintenance and repairs to public buildings.[31]

Former civil conscriptions


To prevent a doctors strike the Belgium government, in April 1964, issued a civil mobilization order for hospital doctors and military doctors.[32]

A plaque that says that the building was constructed in course of Akce Z


During the communist rule in Czechoslovakia the government announced a non-remunerated activity programme called Action Z (in Czech: Akce Z ) for the population. Officially, it was a voluntary work, but in fact it was mandatory. The participation at the Action Z programme was documented and citizens who did not participate or whose participation was unsatisfactory, were threatened with consequences at their regular work.[citation needed]

Coat of arms of the Zivilverteidigung.

East Germany

In East Germany, the officially volunteer Subbotnik service was de facto obligatory the population. With this service, the local communities helped in the maintenance of local infrastructure.[33]

By legislation, if necessary it was possible to draft civilians to the Civil Defense Force in East Germany.


In Greece, the introduction of civil conscription, called "political mobilization", was made possible by law in 1974 and several governments have made use of it.

The years 1979 - 1990

As early as 1979, bank employees and several times in the 1980s and 1990s employees of traffic and transport companies were obliged to perform work.

The debt crisis 2010 - 2014

Due to the Greek debt crisis from 2010 to 2014, certain professional groups were made subject to civil conscription in order to provide public services as a national interest. For example, truck drivers, employees of transport companies, employees of municipalities and teachers were obliged to perform at work.[34][35][36]

Civil conscription during the debt crisis in Greece:
Year Workers
2010 Truck drivers[37]
2011 Municipal cleaning staff
2013 Workers in Athens metro, tram and electric railway[38]
2013 Maritime workers[39]
2013 High school teachers[40]
2014 Electricity power workers[41]
Abolition of civil conscription in 2015

Due to the fact, that civil conscription was very unpopular, the government under the ruling party Syriza abolished civil conscription in 2015.

COVID-19 pandemic

Although civil conscription was abolished, the parliament again created a legal basis during the COVID-19 pandemic in Greece in 2020. Based on the new law, freelance doctors were required to serve in state hospitals in March 2021.[42][43]

Reich Labour Service of Nazi-Germany in 1940

Nazi Germany

Apart from the use of forced labour under German rule during World War II for millions of people, the Nazi German government ordered compulsory work of the civilian population as well, as a part of Nazi labor market policy and to spread Nazi propaganda.[44][45] As early as 1934 all students leaving school after 8 years were obliged to join the Landjahr (countryside year) for labour in agriculture. In addition to that it was compulsory for women until the age of 25 to serve the Pflichtjahr (compulsory year), which was basically in the field of housekeeping. Starting in 1935 the Reich Labour Service was mandatory for all male citizens.


The National Youth Service (NYS) was a youth service program implemented in 1981 by the government of Seychelles that lasted two years until 1991, when it was reduced to a period of one year. It was a formerly compulsory civil service and included traditional educational curriculum, political education and paramilitary training. The Seychellois opposition opposed the program on the grounds, that it allegedly indoctrinated young adults with the ruling Seychelles People's Progressive Front's socialist ideology and that it rarely allowed its participants to visit their families. This mandatory service was ceased in November 1998.[citation needed]


Due to the severe course of the COVID-19 pandemic in Slovakia, the state of emergency was declared in September 2020 by the government under the leadership of Slovak Prime Minister Igor Matovič. Among others legal rights, the government obliged medical personnel to work and to be transferred to other medical facilities. The right to strike was revoked.[46][47][48][49]

Bevin Boys receiving training from an experienced miner at Ollerton, Nottinghamshire, February 1945


In Spain, during an estado de alarma, the "state of alarm", the Spanish government can impose civil conscription. This state of emergency has been declared to conscript different professional groups since the end of Francoist Spain a few times:

United Kingdom

Due to a labour shortage between December 1943 and March 1948, because of World War II and the aftermath, the British government started to draft civil conscripts, the so-called Bevin Boys, for the work in coal mines.[55]

See also


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