German employees of Irish airline Ryanair demonstrate at Frankfurt airport on September 12, 2018

London (AFP) - Ryanair has suffered unprecedented disruption over the past year, with thousands of flights cancelled due to strikes in several countries, including one in Germany on Wednesday, as the airline is mired in a damaging dispute with its pilots and cabin crew.

Here is an overview of the airline’s problems.

- What is the cause of the tensions? -

During its first 30 years, the low-cost Irish company was able to contain staff dissent.

Many Ryanair pilots claim that management obtained their silence through a cocktail of measures, such as imposing self-employed status on certain employees, dividing personnel into a multitude of home ports and prohibiting all union activity.

Growth within sector, especially in China and the Gulf countries, has increased demand for pilots, raising their value in the market and creating tensions within Ryanair.

Some pilots left the company while those that remained have become more militant.

After being forced to cancel thousands of flights at the end of last year, Ryanair made a 180-degree turn in December, saying it was ready to recognise trade unions – but strikes have continued as negotiations drag on.

- What is Ryanair’s current attitude towards unions? -

Ryanair boss Michael O’Leary took the unprecedented step of engaging in discussions with trade unions. But after years of trading barbs with labour organisations, the company’s culture is unlikely to change overnight.

“Achieving these recognition agreements is a remarkable change for the business in the context of Ryanair’s history,” HSBC analyst Andrew Lobbenberg said in a recent research note.

“We think Ryanair is struggling to manage the unionisation process since it lacks experience in dealing with organised labour,” he added.

Ryanair has officially recognised trade unions only in Britain, Ireland, Italy and Germany since December’s historic declaration of intent.

- Has management made concessions? -

Yes, Ryanair has granted significant salary increases and improvements in working conditions for some staff.

In Ireland, the airline accepted mediation to resolve the dispute with the local union, which led to marathon negotiations and agreement.

But elsewhere in Europe, it has often failed to respond to employees’ central demand: that they all receive a stable employment contract in their country of residence.

- Is more turbulence expected? -

The risk of further unrest looms until the company reaches agreements with staff.

In a joint statement Friday, unions across Europe threatened “the biggest strike action the company has ever seen” over their members’ working conditions.

The strike, so far organised by unions in Belgium, Holland, Italy and Spain, is scheduled for the last week in September, with an exact date due by Thursday.

However the walk-out could be called off should a meeting of Ryanair shareholders on September 20 meets union demands.

Pilots and cabin crew appear to have been emboldened by their successes in achieving trade union recognition.

The power shift seems to be encouraging management towards speeding up discussions and breaking the deadlock.