The South Korean filmindustry's first official labour union has been launched in Seoul in response to unstable working conditions.

At launch, the Federation ofKorean Movie Workers' Union has around 400 members with the primary aim of improvingwork conditions through collective negotiation.

Despite the phenomenalgrowth of the Korean industry since the late nineties, labour practices haveseen little change. Unstable employment and the specific absence of a minimumwage, overtime and social security have been ongoing concerns for the sector.

"In the Korean industry,it's almost taken for granted that a film will not necessarily stay onschedule," says Lewis Kim of production house Chungeorahm. "Everyone iscontracted on a project basis, and there's no such thing as overtime pay. Itcould make a great difference in budget otherwise."

Like Hollywood, Korea has become increasingly dependent on foreign salesto sustain the rising costs of production. But Korean film export is dangerouslyconcentrated on Japan - accounting for over 70% of foreign sales in the first half of 2005.

Japanese distributors arecomplaining that it's becoming difficult to justify the record-breaking pricesof Korean product, especially as Japanese films have become more profitable andother emerging Asian industries are stepping up to produce more commerciallyviable product.

Despite the costs it willadd to production, many in the industry consider the issue of worker rights asa necessary change towards a more developed and structured industry. "Budgetsare continually on the rise," says director Lee Hyun-seung. "It's only fittingthat they should take workers' treatment into consideration."

Kim Mee-hyun, head of PolicyResearch & Development at the KOFIC, says: "Some instability may occur as ashort-term effect, but the industry has always been able to solve such problemsin a positive way."