Prison officers at HMP Hindley have joined thousands of their colleagues from across the country in a walk out over safety fears.
Staff at the prison have stopped working for a 24 hour period after the Prison Officers Association (POA) directed all its members to take part in a day of protest after negotiations with the Government broke down.
Steve Douglas, chair of the Hindley branch of the POA, said 98 per cent of the 180 branch members had “removed themselves to a place of safety”.
He said: “The violence from prisoners is shocking and we have a lot of problems with drugs and mobile phones. There are drones coming over on a regular basis.
“It is untenable to be honest. We are bound by section 127 not to take industrial action but we haven’t, we have removed ourselves to a place of safety.”
Steve Gillan, the POA’s general secretary, said as many as 10,000 prison workers will take part in what is effectively a strike where they will only provide emergency cover.
The protest, which began at midnight, comes after a string of high profile incidents at prisons, including an alleged murder, a riot and two inmates escaping.
But the Ministry of Justice claimed the industrial action was unjustified and blasted it as “unlawful”.
Mr Gillan said: “Every prison officer in England is commencing a protest outside their establishment against the disregard for health and safety of our prison officers and prisoners.”
They will provide emergency cover for fires and medical incidents in order to protect prisoners’ well-being, he said.
Prison officers cannot by law take part in a strike and Mr Gillan admitted the day of action will be “interpreted as a strike”.
A union spokesman said: “The POA has consistently raised the volatile and dangerous state of prisons, as chronic staff shortages and impoverished regimes has resulted in staff no longer being safe, a lack of discipline and prisoners taking control of areas.
“The continued surge in violence and unprecedented levels of suicide and acts of self harm, coupled with the recent (alleged) murder and escapes, demonstrate that the service is in meltdown.”
Two prisoners - including a convicted attempted murderer - managed to escape from Pentonville prison, in north London, on November 7, sparking a manhunt in which they were eventually recaptured.
Weeks earlier, inmate Jamal Mahmoud, 21, died after being stabbed at the jail on October 18 in an attack which left two others injured.
And on November 6, up to 200 prisoners went on a rampage in HMP Bedford.
An MoJ spokesman said: “There is no justification for this action.
“We have been engaged in constructive talks with the POA over the last two weeks and have provided a comprehensive response to a range of health and safety concerns.
“The Government has announced an additional 2,500 frontline officers to help reduce violence in prisons.
“We have well-established contingencies in place to manage prisons and keep the public safe, but we are clear that this constitutes unlawful industrial action, and we will seek remedy in the courts.”