Yu Mei, 36, has been working at the state-owned Da Peng bicycle chain plant in Shandong province for 14 years. Now, like millions of other employees of state-owned enterprises, she faces an uncertain future and unemployment. Da Peng was once the biggest employer in the area, with more than 1,000 staff relying on the company for their welfare, from housing, to schooling and medical care. But since the company began to restructure in 1996, more than 600 workers have been laid off. With no new orders coming in and a non-performing loan of 7 million yuan, more layoffs are expected to be announced after the Lunar New Year, as they have been every year for the past seven. At 300 yuan a month, Ms Yu's salary is not high, but she makes a vital contribution to the family's income, whose only other source of revenue is generated by her husband, who opened a tiny restaurant last year after being laid off himself. 'It is not easy to find a job,' Ms Yu said. 'What's more, I will lose my pension the moment I am laid off since the plant is too poor to cash it.' Ms Yu's story is a familiar one, and is about to become even more so. According to reports published by state media, the Minister of Labour and Social Security, Zheng Silin, has vowed to finish restructuring the country's overstaffed state-owned enterprises within three years. This will see an estimated three million employees laid off every year until the end of 2006. An official announcement published on the ministry's website said four million new jobs for laid-off workers kept the registered urban unemployment rate at 4.3 per cent last year, despite the outbreak of Sars. Official statistics also show that among the 27.8 million workers who lost their jobs in the past five years, 2.7 million of them were still jobless. 'Re-employment is a hard nut to crack,' Mr Zheng was quoted by the China Daily as saying. 'And 4.3 per cent registered urban unemployed is a hard-won rate.' The ministry has announced its intention to help five million laid-off workers find jobs this year, while keeping the unemployment rate at 4.7 per cent. But laid-off workers receiving small pensions, and migrant workers from rural areas, have not been included in the figures. If they were, experts estimate it would increase the rate to almost 10 per cent. The government fears failure to tackle joblessness could lead to social unrest. This concern has made the issue a top priority. It has vowed to introduce an unemployment insurance system by 2007.