THERE were fewer complaints about employers hiring foreigners over locals last year than a year ago, said Senior Minister of State for Manpower Amy Khor yesterday.

Even so, the Ministry of Manpower (MOM) remains focused on wiping out the scourge, she said during an update in Parliament on measures like the Jobs Bank and Fair Consideration Framework (FCF) that aim to ensure fair employment for locals.

The number of complaints dropped to 230 last year from 310 in 2013, Dr Khor said. Of the 230 complaints, about 40 per cent were unsubstantiated, she added.

"We have pursued every single one of these cases to establish if they adopted discriminatory practices. When we find proof, MOM will not hesitate to take action."

Action ranges from advising firms on how to plug human resource gaps to issuing warnings and having curbs on work pass privileges for more serious infringements.

For example, maritime firm Prime Gold International was banned from hiring foreign workers for two years after it was found to have retrenched 13 Singaporeans and replaced them with foreigners.

The locals were working as ship captains, officers, engineers and seamen.

The FCF allows the ministry to proactively identify and engage with employers who are found to have room for improvement in hiring practices, Dr Khor said.

It requires firms to first advertise on the national jobs bank for 14 days for locals to fill vacancies, before they are allowed to seek foreign professionals.

Dr Khor described a "positive start" for the Jobs Bank since its launch last July. As of Feb 1, some 16,000 employers and 76,000 individuals have registered.

On average, there are 68,000 live job vacancies, with more than 70 per cent targeted at professionals, managers and executives (PMEs), she said, adding that 20,000 of the jobs offer a monthly salary of at least $5,000.

Three MPs - Mr Patrick Tay (Nee Soon GRC), Non-Constituency MP Gerald Giam and Nominated MP Randolph Tan - suggested extending the FCF to firms wanting to apply for 'S' Pass holders.

Dr Khor said that the Government has not done so because it uses other tools, like levies, to spur firms to turn to locals for their vacancies - although MOM is monitoring the situation.

She asked MPs not to evaluate the Jobs Bank and the FCF "in isolation" because they are parts of a broader labour market ecosystem which has largely served Singaporeans well.