The term “industrial dispute” connotes a real and substantial difference having some element of persistency, and likely, if not adjusted, to endanger the industrial peace of the community. The expression “dispute or difference” as used in the definition given under section 2(k) of the Industrial Disputes Act, 1947, therefore, means a controversy fairly definite and of real substance, connected with the terms of employment or the conditions of labour of any person, and is one in which the contesting parties are directly interested in maintaining the respective contentions.
To understand the meaning of the word “dispute”, it would be appropriate to start with the grammatical or dictionary meaning of the term:
“Dispute.—to argue about, to contend for, to oppose by argument, to call in question—to argue or debate (with, about or over)—a contest with words; an argument; a debate; a quarrel;”
Black’s Law Dictionary, 5th Edition, P. 424 defines “dispute” as under:
“Dispute.—A conflict or controversy; a conflict of claims or rights; an assertion of a right, claim, or demand on one side, met by contrary claims or allegations on the other. The subject of litigation; the matter for which a suit is brought and upon which issue is joined and in relation to which jurors are called and witness examined.”
Thus, a dispute or difference arises when demand is made by one side (i.e. workmen) and rejected by the other side (i.e. the employer) and vice versa. Henc an “industrial dispute” cannot be said to exist until and unless the demand is made by the workman and it has been rejected by the employer. How such demand should be raised and at what stage may also be relevant. Prabhakar v. Joint Director, Sericulture Department, (2015) 15 SCC 1.