• Kyodo, Jiji

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Tomoko Yoshino on Wednesday became the first female chief of Rengo, Japan's largest labor organization, after her promotion from vice president was approved at a regular convention.

The 55-year-old Yoshino, from a labor union mainly representing small and medium-sized manufacturers, will serve a two-year term, succeeding Rikio Kozu, who led the body for six years.

The organization, formally known as the Japanese Trade Union Confederation, has around 7 million members.

It is the first time since the establishment of Rengo in 1989 that a woman has taken the helm.

In an inaugural news conference held Thursday, Yoshino said she will focus on raising wages in Japan.

"Many nonregular (workers) are women. I'll carry out measures that will improve (overall labor conditions)," she said.

After graduating from high school, Yoshino got a job at sewing machine maker Juki Corp. in 1984. She has served as deputy head of the Japanese Association of Metal, Machinery, and Manufacturing Workers since 2015 and as vice president of Rengo since 2015.

"I will proceed with our activities by heeding the voices of our members seriously so we can create an environment in which people can continue work without worrying even amid the spread of the coronavirus," Yoshino said.

Despite calls for increasing the number of women in leadership positions, Japan still has a long way to go. Women have been leaders of labor unions in nations such as the U.S. and the U.K.

The Japan Business Federation, known as Keidanren, has never had a female chief in its history of over seven decades. In June, online service provider DeNA Co. Chairwoman Tomoko Namba became the first female vice chair of the organization, the country's most powerful business lobby.

Kozu, 65, spent his six years as Rengo head during the administrations of Shinzo Abe and Yoshihide Suga, who saw wage growth as critical to beat deflation.

As labor unions held wage negotiations with management in the spring every year, Kozu called for pay-scale hikes and better treatment for nonregular workers.

For the post of Rengo's general secretary, Hideyuki Shimizu, of the Japan Teachers' Union, was selected, replacing Yasunobu Aihara. He will serve a two-year term.

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