The last 12 months have seen a 25 per cent increase in the number of employment cases being referred to the conciliation service Acas to avoid a tribunal hearing.

Disputes over equal pay were the most common among those handled, followed by unfair dismissal, the body’s annual report shows.

Some 58,513 equal pay claims were received by Acas in 2007-08, up from 27,497 the previous year. Around 150,000 claims were dealt with overall.

A large number of equal pay claims came from local authority and public sector health workers, the report confirmed.

Thanks to Acas conciliation, the potential workload of employment tribunals was reduced by 75 per cent, it added.

Ed Sweeney, chair of Acas, said: "Acas has continued to play a central role in the employment relations arena not only in resolving disputes but also in providing valuable advice and guidance to employers and employees."

Business Link advises employers to ensure they have clear and transparent pay structures and to maintain good communication with their staff in order to avoid tribunal claims.