A strike by Greek ferry workers has left thousands of tourists stranded on outlying islands during one of the busiest times for holidaymakers.

The 48-hour strike comes in spite of pleas from business leaders and politicians not to disrupt Greece's vital tourism sector, an industry that employs one in five workers. Greece, with more than 200 inhabited islands, depends heavily on ferries.

None of the ferries scheduled to depart from [Greece's main port] Piraeus this morning has left, a coast guard official said, according to Reuters.

This coming weekend marks the start of the main tourist season, with tens of thousands of Greeks traveling home to celebrate the Orthodox Easter with their families.

It will destroy the Easter tourist business for all the Greek islands ... It will not allow thousands of farmers to sell their products at a time when things are very difficult, said Vassilis Korkidis, president of the National Confederation of Greek Commerce.

We are constantly hostages to strikes and protests whose only result is the destruction of one social group by another labor group, he said.

Ferry workers' unions are angry at reforms of their healthcare and pensions, as well as plans to open the sector up to more competition.

We understand the problems that the strike causes. Our strike will have consequences, said the president of the Seamen's Federation, Antonis Dalakogiorgos.

But we have no other options as the government introduced already finalized plans right in the middle of Holy Week and just as parliament is to be dissolved, and we are officially on our way to elections.

The five=month old coalition government is battling to implement tough austerity measures as the country struggles through its fifth consecutive year of recession.

The uneasy alliance between socialist and conservative parties is expected to dissolve parliament later this week after announcing a date for fresh elections next month.