About 500 workers at state-owned Shaoguan Smelter marched in protest on a main road in Shaoguan in northern Guangdong on Monday over a contract dispute, mainland media reported. The workers gathered at the metal-smelting factory's gate at about 8.30am, blocking Nan Jiao Road in front of the factory for about two hours, Guangzhou Daily reported. Management had initially refused to sign new labour contracts with 267 employees whose contracts will expire by the end of the year. It said on November 23 that it had been forced into this decision by the global financial crisis. It wanted the employees to sign two-year contracts with a local labour agency and continue working for the factory, and promised to renew the contracts with the workers in 2011 after the economic situation improved. Dozens of armed police monitored the protesters, who abandoned their demonstration at about noon after management promised to negotiate with their representatives. By Monday night, the company had dropped its original plan and promised to renew the workers' contracts. Protests by manufacturing workers have been widespread across Guangdong in recent months, mostly over back pay, redundancy packages and mass layoffs, following the bankruptcies of various companies. Mainland media quoted industry estimates as saying that about 2.7 million factory workers in Guangdong could lose their jobs. On November 14 and 15, Premier Wen Jiabao toured several Guangdong cities to investigate the region's small and medium-sized enterprises.