What Is Industrial Dispute? Difference Between Industrial Dispute And Individual Dispute

In any industry, maintenance of industrial peace has been of utmost importance for its constructive growth. As a result, these industries of different advanced countries, strive to maintain their industrial relationships more or less known as employer-worker relationship in a peaceful manner. In India, these relationships tend to be conceived as a partnership in a constructive endeavour, to promote the satisfaction of the economic needs of the community in the best possible manner. Industrial Disputes Act, 1947 (hereinafter referred as “ID Act, 1947”) which the Ministry of Labour and Employment has now changed to Industrial Relations Code, 2020 (hereinafter referred as “IR Code, 2020”) further provides for maintaining these relationships in successfully.

ID Act, 1947 defines Industrial dispute, as a dispute or difference between workmen and employers or between workmen and workmen, which is connected with the employment or non-employment or the terms of employment or with the conditions of labour of any person. It is the difference or disagreement between an employer and employee’s representative i.e. trade union. However, international organizations such as the International Labour Organization (hereinafter referred as “ILO”) have classified industrial disputes or disagreements into Individual disputes and Collective Disputes. The Individual Dispute is the one which involves a single worker or a number of workers as individuals and is collective if involving a number of workers.

The Individual Dispute arose, can further transform into a Collective Dispute, if the cause is followed by a number of workers or groups of workers or trade unions. The ILO has further classified the industrial disputes into Disputes about Rights and Disputes about Interests which generally are also called Economic Disputes. The Rights Disputes can further be described as a dispute concerning the violation of or interpretation of existing rights as per the law, collective agreement or individual contract of employment. Whereas, the Interests Disputes is one which arises from differences over the determination of future rights and obligations and is usually the result of a failure of collective bargaining.

In India, industrial disagreements arose, surround the classifications made by ILO on the industrial dispute. These mostly ignite out of the industrial unrest and are manifested through strikes, lockouts, picketing, gheraos and indiscipline on the part of workers regarding employment. The causes of the unrest may be disagreement in pay or other working conditions such as insufficient pay, lack of benefits and assistance schemes, or the causes may be wider socio-economic problems such as poverty and unemployment, etc.

These relates to employment or non-employment, or terms of employment or conditions of labour of any person preferably related to the industry in correspondence to Indian Law. In India, the industrial disputes have not been classified further but anything that surrounds the concern of ILO’s classification on Industrial dispute is considered to be industry dispute.

What are the Causes of Industrial Disputes or Disagreements?

Disputes arise since workmen have right to collective bargaining. To constitute any dispute as an industrial dispute, there should be a demand made by workmen or employee in relation to the employment or non-employment and the same should have been denied by the person to whom the demand is made leading to dispute. In the case of Sindhu Resettlement Corporation Ltd. v. Industrial Tribunal, 1968 AIR 529, Supreme Court has said that, if there is no dispute raised by the workmen with the management, any request sent by them to the government would only be a demand. A mere demand to the government without a dispute being raised cannot become an industrial dispute.

However, the expression of the industrial dispute has been widely defined and any that may develop between the employer and its workmen cannot go outside the purview of the definition (Workmen of Hindustan Lever Ltd. Hindustan Lever Ltd., 1984 AIR 1683). Even if the demand is not made earlier before the management and rejected by them and is raised at the time of reference or conciliation proceedings, the dispute may be an industrial dispute (Shambu Nath Goyal v. Bank of Baroda, 1984 AIR 289).

It can be the economic causes that are dissatisfaction towards compensation like wages, promotions, bonus, allowances, and other benefits or conditions for work, working hours, leave and holidays without pay, unjust layoffs and retrenchments, disputes in dismissal, etc.

Or the non – economic causes factors including victimization of workers, ill-treatment by staff members, sympathetic strikes, political factors, indiscipline, etc. The non-economic causes of industrial disputes can be classified as psychological causes (such as clash of personalities, the demand of self-respect and recognition by workers, nature of administration, etc.), institutional causes (such as non-recognition/ registration of trade union, matters of collective bargaining, unfair trade and practices, etc.), denial of legal and other rights of workers (such as proceedings against labour laws and regulations, violation of already made agreements i.e. between employees and employers).

Difference between the industrial dispute from the individual dispute

The industrial dispute conveys the meaning that the dispute must be such as would affect large groups of workmen and employers ranged in opposite sides. Whereas, the individual dispute is the one which is raised by a single worker. It is not mandatory that a dispute should be raised by a registered Trade Union to constitute an industrial dispute. When community interest gets added to the individual dispute or it is supported by workmen themselves or their union or federation on their behalf an individual dispute transforms into a collective industrial dispute.

According to the definition under ID Act, 1947 the dispute can be raised either for a workman or any person about whom the workmen have a substantial interest in the employment or non-employment or terms of employment or conditions of labour. Here, the expression “any person” connotes to workmen and any other person provided it is related with the workmen about whose employment or non-employment or terms of employment or conditions of labour workmen have a direct and substantial interest. Alternatively, it can be said that any person must be an employee of the industry in which the workmen are employees (Narendra Kumar Sen v. All India Bank Dispute, AIR1953 Bom 325).

Similarly, in Workmen of Dirakuchi Tea Estate v. Management of Dirakuchi Tea Estate, 1958 AIR 353, the expression “any person” was interpreted in the definition clause as meaning a person in whose employment or non-employment or terms of employment or conditions of labour. The workmen as a class have a direct or substantial interest with whom they have under the scheme of the Act a community of interest. The Court further said that only the aggrieved party can raise a dispute but, in case if an industrial dispute it is put in a collective basis because it settled that an industrial dispute not espoused by others of the class to which the aggrieved party belongs is not an industrial dispute.

Thus, from the above decision, it can be said that “any person” one about whom the workmen have a substantial interest in the employment or non-employment or terms of employment or conditions of labour even though he does not fall within the definition of “workmen” under the ID Act, 1947.

An individual dispute becomes industrial dispute

Any individual dispute to be declared as an industrial dispute the following conditions are to be satisfied, first, when a body of workmen trade union or a considerable number of workmen, are found to have made common cause with the individual workmen. When the body of workmen either acting through their union or otherwise had sponsored a workman’s case it becomes an industrial dispute. Provided, the support or sponsorship obtained must be the workmen of the employer against whom a dispute is sought (Newspaper Ltd., Allahabad v. Industrial Tribunal, AIR 1960 SC 1328).

The concept of being in the same employer under the same employer brings out the community interest when the act complained against happened and not when the dispute was referred to. In the case of Bombay Union of Journalists v. The Hindu, 1961 II L.L.J 436, the Bombay Union of Journalists, of whom the Workers Union was a member, raised a workers’ dispute. The Bombay Journalists Union was not a union of one job, but all employees in the Bombay journalism industry. Its members were none of the Hindu employees. Supreme Court held the dispute to be individual rather than industrial.

However, this opinion of considering the dispute as individual dispute due to lack of support by a significant number of employees or unions has no remedy under the ID Act, 1947 was later overruled and remedy is provided to any person raising the industrial dispute provided it satisfies all grounds as listed in ID Act, 1947 for constituting industrial dispute.

The second condition on which individual dispute can be entertained as the industrial dispute is that the individual dispute was taken up or sponsored by the workman as a body Trade Union or by a considerable section of them before the date of reference. In the case of Workmen of Indian Express Newspapers Ltd. v. Management Indian Express Newspapers, AIR 1970 SC 737, the Indian Express journalists had no union and therefore their dispute was raised by Delhi Union of Journalists, which was an external union. Few per cent of the Indian express working journalists were members of that union. The court here held that the Delhi Union of Journalists had a representative character. The working journalists used Indian Express and the dispute thus became an industrial dispute.

After the enactment of 2 A in the Industrial Disputes Act, 1947

The section 2 A of the ID Act, 1947 today, states that when an employer discharges, dismisses, retrenches, or otherwise terminates the services of an individual workman, any dispute or difference between that workman and his employer connected with, or arising out of, such discharge, dismissal, retrenchment or termination shall be deemed to be an industrial dispute notwithstanding that no other workman nor any union of workmen is a party to the dispute.

Before insertion of this clause Supreme Court had led down the points on whose satisfaction an individual dispute can be transformed into an industrial dispute that is, the dispute must be sponsored by a trade union and it must be sponsored by a significant number of workers. An individual dispute even though appeared as an industrial dispute from the perspective of subjects referred to in ID Act, 1947 can be termed as an industrial dispute on fulfilling the abovementioned conditions. But after the introduction of section 2 A, a dispute would be an industrial dispute in respect of these matters specified in that section even though it is not sponsored by a union or a considerable number of workmen.

Now, no difference lies between the industrial dispute and individual dispute. Every dispute whether raised individually or collectively will be covered under industrial disputes. However, according to section 2 A not all disputes to be referred as industrial disputes. Rather only when a dispute is connected with a discharged, dismissed, retrenched or terminated workman that it shall be treated as an industrial dispute. Therefore, for the matters connecting to payment of bonus, gratuity, other interest issues only collective dispute will constitute as an industrial dispute if it were only an individual dispute and it was taken up either by the union or by a substantial body or workmen. Here, the collective dispute does not mean that the dispute should either be sponsored by a recognized union or that all or majority of the workmen of an industrial establishment should be parties to it (State of Bihar v. Kripa Shankar Jaiswal, 1961 AIR 304).

Resolution of the individual disputes

Industrial progress and prosperity, maintenance of peaceful relations are important for the successful administration of industry. The individual disputes are raised can be resolved through Grievance Settlement Authority in accordance with rules under ID Act, 1947, or through registered trade unions under Trade Unions Act, 1926, or through the Labour Court having competent jurisdiction.


1. https://www.ilo.org/legacy/english/dialogue/ifpdial/llg/noframes/ch4.htm

2. http://www.whatishumanresource.com/industrial-disputes

3. https://theinvestorsbook.com/industrial-disputes.html

4. http://egazette.nic.in/WriteReadData/2020/222118.pdf

5. https://www.indiacode.nic.in/bitstream/123456789/15191/1/AAA194714.pdf

6. http://lc.kerala.gov.in/images/Cact/tuact.pdf

This article is authored by Shriya Kesharwani, B.B.A LL.B (Hons.) Student at Gujarat National Law University.

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