Controversial unionist John Setka poached more than 200 members from a rival section of his own union and the court fight over them is highlighting divisions in the organisation's ranks. 

Construction Forestry Maritime Mining and Energy Union national secretary Michael O’Connor wants to stop Mr Setka and 29 other officials from taking members who are glaziers, cabinet makers and flooring installers.

Since August last year, there had been 219 resignations from Mr O’Connor’s manufacturing branch who moved to the construction branch, barrister Herman Borenstein QC told the Federal Court in Melbourne on Wednesday.

“Steps were taken by the construction branch to have members of the manufacturing division resign their membership of that division and then join the construction branch,” he said.

This was in breach of the national union’s rules about the allocation of members, Mr Borenstein said.

While there were no specific references to the specific occupations in the union rules, it did not mean they fell under the construction division, the lawyer argued.

”That’s like saying because a GP is a doctor he’s also a heart surgeon,” he said.

Delegates from the construction division had also made enterprise agreements on behalf of manufacturing workers, the court was told.

Mr O’Connor wants the members and their union dues to be returned to the manufacturing division.

The national secretary was quizzed by Mr Setka’s lawyer, Craig Dowling SC, about how he voted for proposed rule changes that went as far back as 1993.

The CFMMEU boss “assumed” he would have voted on the changes but did not remember whether he was in favour of them or not.

“It’s disappointing the applicant didn’t attempt to resolve it through the organisation,” Mr Dowling earlier told the court about the proceedings.

The latest escalation within the powerful union comes after Mr Setka was forced out of the Labor Party in August last year following comments about family violence campaigner Rosie Batty.

He also pleaded guilty to harassing his wife but controversially kept his union position.

In September, CFMMEU national and mining and energy division president Tony Maher received support for a motion condemning Mr Setka’s “unprincipled actions” in stealing members from other divisions.

Mr Maher said at the time the union would not tolerate “breaches of rules and the principle of divisional autonomy”.

The hearing before Justice David O’Callaghan continues on Thursday.