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Photo: Tamara Voninski

A decisive showdown looms this week between two factions battling for control of union representation of the merged foreign affairs and overseas aid departments in Canberra.

Members will be asked on Thursday to vote for a single leader of the Community and Public Sector Union at DFAT, the department that swallowed up AusAID last year, as the two opposing groups continue to exchange fire.

One of the left-leaning young turks from AusAID, who are challenging the more conservative DFAT delegates, accused the union hierarchy at foreign affairs of trying to arrange job losses so that former AusAID staff bore the brunt of the bloodletting.

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A sharp north-south divide has opened up in the merged department between workers at AusAID's old headquarters in Civic and DFAT's nerve centre at Barton's RG Casey Building.

Barbs have also been exchanged over the ''privileges'' of each group.

One DFAT Civic union activist, who wishes to remain anonymous, said there was deep distrust north of the lake for the Barton union ''cadre''.

''When DFAT Barton staff's objective is to ensure that redundancies fall solely within the subgroup of jobs from the newbies across the north side of the lake, those of us north side are not convinced of the effectiveness of the status quo,'' the AusAID staffer said.

Complaints have also broken out over working conditions and the age-old battleground for public servants who work overseas, the coveted plum posting, has also proven to be a flashpoint.

''DFAT Barton, even at very senior levels, continues to complain about the 'better conditions' DFAT Civic staff enjoy, while they enjoy their own cafeteria, gym, childcare centre, and what remains of their free parking,'' the former AusAIDer said. ''While we worry about whether we will have a job, they voice concerns about AusAIDers stealing their opportunities for posting.''

But a DFAT veteran shot back, alleging that the AusAID delegates had a ''cosseted arrangement'' with the management of their abolished agency. The foreign affairs staffer pointed out that AusAID workers still enjoyed more generous maternity leave than their new colleagues and they could still claim their $400 annual ‘‘gym’’ allowance, which can be spent on fitness club membership or other health and fitness products or services.

The ballot of union members, which opens on Thursday and will run for a week, is expected to pit AusAID executive Siddhartha Chakrabarti against DFAT stalwart Christopher Lang.

The union’s ruling executive council will appoint the winner to the position of secretary of a new merged branch until fresh elections are held in 2015.

What they’re really fighting about

DFAT Barton
On-site gym
Childcare centre
Free car parking (until July 1)
In-house cafe

DFAT Civic ( formerly known as AusAID)
Gym allowance ($400pa)
18 weeks paid maternity leave