Premier Zhu Rongji may be forced to slow down his programme of streamlining the Government due to massive resistance. Chinese sources said he had encountered a 'major difficulty' at the Ministry of Railways, one of the largest employers on the mainland. Under Mr Zhu's dictum, every government department has to shed half its staff. The Railways Ministry mapped out plans soon after the National People's Congress in March to halve its millions of employees across the country. The workers are hired by rail lines as well as companies under the ministry. 'By some estimates, the ministry lost more than one billion yuan [HK$936 million] last year,' said a Beijing source. 'Fu Zhihuan, the new minister, is anxious to make a difference. 'He has stuck to Mr Zhu's instructions to the letter and hopes the layoffs will help meet the goal of stopping the losses in two years.' But rail workers who have either been laid off or told they may lose their jobs have staged industrial action in a number of cities. 'Fu and other senior cadres are worried about the protests escalating into a nationwide crisis,' the source said. 'Zhu may be forced to agree to a smaller-scale layoff, at least for the short haul.' The heads of a few other ministries have also asked for Mr Zhu's permission to slow down the pace of downsizing, which should be accomplished in two to three years. Meanwhile, a politburo member has asked the nation's media to devote less coverage to unemployment despite the fact that the official media has largely concentrated on 'positive' stories such as the new employment schemes. 'There has been too much coverage on the problem of unemployment in newspapers and on television,' the senior politician reportedly said. 'This may hurt the morale of workers and civil servants and even contribute to social instability. Shouldn't we be focusing on other important events as well?' Diplomatic analysts said apart from employment, the leadership had also met difficulties in its campaign to 'commercialise' state housing. Provincial newspapers have reported that very few residents have taken out mortgages to buy their own apartments despite all commercial banks earmarking huge sums for potential home loans.