Premier Zhu Rongji has emphasised the need to maintain stability by safeguarding the livelihood of jobless workers and people in other disadvantaged sectors. Mr Zhu celebrated Lunar New Year with workers, police and flood victims in Hubei province, which has been hit by labour unrest. 'All levels of government must give priority to safeguarding the basic livelihood of laid-off workers and finding jobs for them,' Xinhua quoted Mr Zhu as telling local officials. The Premier said it was unavoidable that in the course of reforming state-owned enterprises some labour had to be shed. But he urged the relevant authorities to use 'a thousand ways and means' to make sure the unemployed did not go hungry. Mr Zhu also indicated that pensions of retired workers should be paid promptly. Visiting farmers displaced by the floods, Mr Zhu said: 'President Jiang Zemin and other party and state leaders are deeply concerned about your life during the winter season. 'Today, we feel relieved after seeing that you have all moved into new houses.' He said Beijing had allocated tens of billions of yuan to repair flood damage and build water conservation projects last year. Tens of billions had been earmarked for the same task this year. But Mr Zhu warned that localities 'must use the funds properly and effectively and not divert these funds to other uses'. Apart from protests from disgruntled workers, municipal and county administrations in Hubei also have been hit with numerous petitions from farmers and flood victims claiming officials have misused funds destined for improving waterworks and agricultural facilities. The state media are full of reports of how different provinces have come up with funds to help the destitute. Xinhua reported yesterday how officials in Hebei province collected 934 million yuan (HK$868 million) worth of social insurance and re-employment funds ahead of the new year. Since late last year, leaders including Mr Zhu and Mr Jiang have stopped talking about further radical reform measures such as restructuring enterprises, which would entail more unemployment. Mr Jiang has instead emphasised 'internal reform', such as appointing better managers and gradual technological transformation.