A LONDON postal workers’ leader yesterday warned the government they will face massive opposition, if they go ahead and try to break Labour’s election manifesto pledge of ‘no plans’ to privatise Royal Mail.

John Denton, London regional secretary of the Communication Workers Union (CWU), told News Line: ‘The union will be forced by its activists to disaffiliate from the Labour Party if it privatises Royal Mail in any shape or form.

‘There will be big opposition to this,’ he added, warning that ‘industrial action is possible’.

Private company DX is launching 96 private pillar boxes, painted blue with the ‘DX’ logo, with the regulator Postcomm. saying that by 2006 the UK postal market will be opened up to ‘full competition’.

At the same time, Royal Mail chairman Allan Leighton expects to get the support of Trade Secretary Alan Johnson for his plan to buy a 51 per cent controlling stake in Royal Mail.

Leighton said he would borrow £2 billion against Royal Mail’s balance sheet and has identified valuable assets, such as the company’s European parcels service, GLS, which could then be sold off to pay the scheme’s backers.

He said shares would be held on behalf of staff in an Employee Share Ownership Trust.

John Denton told News Line: ‘Johnson wrote an article in last month’s CWU magazine, “Voice’’, where he was floating a John Lewis-type partnership.

‘If somebody holds shares on your behalf, it’s a bit like when your pension fund holds shares in a company like Shell. It would not be workers’ control, it would be management control, and we all know what’s happened with pension funds.’

Denton also said Leighton’s claims on Sunday that Royal Mail bosses have ‘turned the company around’ in three years were ‘a con’.

Leighton announced that Royal Mail staff will get bonuses of £1,000 each after the company recorded operating profits of £530 million for last year. Chief executive Adam Crozier will get a bonus of £2 million.

But Denton said: ‘They keep repeating this mantra that Royal Mail was losing £1 million a day. This was only because they stuck “exceptional items’’ like redundancies and restructuring up front, and then used the loss to justify the redundancies and restructuring!’

Responding to Crozier’s bonus, Denton said: ‘Most of his effort has been effectively reducing staff and reducing the quality of service and it’s our members who’ve turned the service around after Royal Mail management almost destroyed it.’

l Health Secretary Patricia Hewitt has said she was considering making hospitals criminally liable if patients catch the MRSA superbug on their premises.

She said the best hospitals already had the superbug ‘pretty much’ under control but ‘much more needs to be done’.

She then confirmed criminal liability, is ‘what we are looking at’, claiming hygiene laws and standards in food factories were ‘tougher’ and that the government’s proposals would be published in a Hygiene Bill later this year.

A Department of Health spokesman said the main aim of the government’s proposals is ‘to ensure that there is an effective inspection regime with real teeth’.

In the Queen’s Speech today, the government will press for greater privatisation of the NHS by extending the ‘independence’ of foundation hospitals and leaving room for more private sector involvement in ‘primary care’.