Mass layoffs and pay cuts were among the issues of greatest concern for Premier Wen Jiabao, state media reported yesterday after the leader toured the northeastern rust-belt province of Liaoning. During the tour, he asked local authorities to do everything in their power to help enterprises survive the economic crisis. 'There are mainly four things that worry me - mass layoffs, pay cuts, taxation and production. These are the things I am concerned about,' he was quoted by China National Radio as saying. Liaoning, together with Jilin and Heilongjiang, was part of the mainland's industrial heartland under the planned economy but has been dogged by unemployment since many workers lost their jobs during the economic reforms. As the economy has slowed amid the global financial crisis, Beijing has confronted a big challenge to keep the jobless rate down. Mr Wen's comments yesterday reflected the extent of the leadership's worries. On the same day in Linzhou, Henan province, about 1,000 workers from a state-owned steel plant protested against delayed salary payments and the company's failure to make timely contributions to social welfare schemes, Xinhua reported. The workers blocked a main section of a road in Linzhou for almost a day. They dispersed after the local government promised to step in to help resolve the matter. Mindful that a rising number of similar labour disputes could trigger widespread social unrest, the premier yesterday urged state-owned enterprises to use technological innovation to cut costs and improve their competitiveness rather than simply laying off staff. He said the SOEs should give priority to industrial upgrades and innovation, and do it 'early rather than late' to make it through the financial crisis, Xinhua said. In particular, efforts should be made to develop new products and domestic brands, while the government must ease the burden on enterprises and provide an environment conducive to innovation, Mr Wen said. When visiting the Anshan Iron and Steel Group Corporation, a major steel producer based in Anshan city, Liaoning, Mr Wen told company officials to speed up the phasing out of obsolete technology and strictly limit new capacity to curb oversupply in the steel industry.