Since October 1st, two pilot projects have been running at the 3rd Minesweeper Squadron in Kiel. During a six-month test phase, crew members can regularly expect shortened working weeks in their home port – and can spend the night on board again.

During the trial period in port weeks, the soldiers of the mine hunting boats from Kiel only work from Monday to Thursday: If their boat is in Kiel on Friday, they are usually free. But that doesn’t mean that they work less than their comrades on land.

According to the Soldiers’ Working Hours Ordinance introduced in 2016 , they generally have to work 41 hours per week. This almost corresponds to the classic nine-to- five model, i.e. daily working hours from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. However, those who go to sea cannot leave work at 5 p.m. or go home for the weekend to devote themselves to family, friends, household and hobbies.

As seafarers, the crews of the fleet are exposed to particular demands on their time. During sea voyages, they regularly perform duties outside of regular operations, for example when taking part in maneuvers or in training preparation for operations. For the crews, this even means working weeks that last seven days several times a year.

“In recent years, it has not been uncommon for individual soldiers to apply for compensatory hours on a Friday or Monday,” said the commander of the 3rd Minesweeper Squadron, Frigate Captain Carsten Schlüter. For the Bundeswehr, soldiers should, if possible, balance their overtime with free time.

In Kiel, the commanders of the minehunting boats will create weekly duty rosters for their crews, initially up to and including March 2024, which will no longer require the presence of the boat crews on Fridays at the home base. These weekly work plans are generally based on the so-called annual exercise and operations plan, which, among other things, determines, among other things, the sea travel times for each ship and boat in the fleet well in advance. With the flexible working time model, it can now be determined when exactly the weekends of the next few months for the crew members can begin on Thursday evening.

“Now Friday, which can be planned in advance, offers new opportunities for coordinated childcare, for volunteer work or simply for relaxation,” explains Schlüter. “This means that leisure time has more value than a day released at short notice in the middle of the week. There are now regular three-day weekends for my soldiers.” However, the flexible working time model being tested is not a four-day week.

Overtime is primarily incurred through security work, in the shipyard and on one-day sea trips. The aim of the pilot is, within the framework of a forward-looking roster design, to offer a plannable opportunity to reduce overtime and special time demands from sea trips lasting several days and, above all, to relieve the burden on regular 24/7 sea trips (including weekends, i.e. seven-day weeks). offer. The commanders ensure that their crews meet the working time requirements. This with a planned Friday off, i.e. the three-day weekend, with the intention that this brings more relaxation and motivation than other approaches.

The “Return on Board” project is running parallel to the “Flexible Working Week” project. Accommodation or remaining on board beyond the end of the working day is now permitted again on a test basis. The Navy suspended this in 2016 with the introduction of the Soldiers’ Working Hours Ordinance to reduce guard numbers and for fire protection reasons.

Since the beginning of October, crew members of the minesweeping squadron have been able to spend the night in their living quarters and decks on their minehunting boat again, not only when they are in a foreign port, but also at their base in Kiel. An essential prerequisite for this is the installation of new fire alarm systems on the boats. The crews still do not provide port guards at their home base. In the event of an emergency, the new system automatically alerts the base fire department, which is staffed around the clock.

The flexible working time model is supported by scientists from the University of the Bundeswehr Hamburg. The Institute for Personnel and Work is expected to present an evaluation in early summer 2024, which will provide scientifically based conclusions for further action following the pilot.

Over the next few months, the two test projects should allow the crews of the minehunting boats to regenerate better. Through the combination of the two projects, the naval forces also expect that the overall combat effectiveness of the seafaring personnel will increase along with the satisfaction of the crews. Commander Schlüter also thinks: “Despite all the improvements in everyday life, the priority in my squadron is still combat readiness. All the better if these can be reconciled.”