U.S. president-elect Donald Trump named fast-food executive Andy Puzder to head the Department of Labor on Thursday, drawing criticism from labour advocates worried about his opposition to a higher minimum wage and government regulation of the workplace.

Puzder, chief executive of CKE Restaurants Inc., which operates the Carl's Jr. and Hardee's fast-food chains, has frequently argued in the media that higher minimum wages would hurt workers by forcing restaurants to close.

'He will save small businesses from the crushing burdens of unnecessary regulations.' — Donald Trump

He has bashed a new Labor Department rule aimed at extending overtime pay to more than four million U.S. workers and has praised the benefits of automation in the fast-food industry.

Fast-food workers, who are largely not unionized, are engaged in a multi-year campaign known as the "Fight for $15," which is supported by labour unions, to raise minimum wages to $15 per hour. They have had state-wide successes in New York and California and in cities and municipalities such as Seattle.

Trump, in a statement released by his transition team, praised Puzder for a "record fighting for workers" and said he would ensure occupational safety standards.

"He will save small businesses from the crushing burdens of unnecessary regulations that are stunting job growth and suppressing wages," Trump said.

In the same statement, Puzder, 66, said he agreed with Trump that "the right government policies can result in more jobs and better wages for the American worker."

'Talking a good game'

The Labor Department regulates wages, safety and discrimination in the workplace.

The Republican president-elect won last month's election by carrying swing states — and some traditionally Democratic states — in the U.S. Rust Belt after promising to create jobs and to review or cancel trade deals that he said were bad for workers.

National labour leaders had urged their rank-and-file members to back Democratic candidate Hillary Clinton, saying Trump's appointments and policies would not align with his promises to workers.

Labour leaders have been girding for Trump to appoint pro-business regulators at the Labor Department and the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB), and to roll back key regulatory initiatives of the Obama administration such as the Labor Department rule that extended overtime pay.

"He was talking a good game when he was running for president, as far as helping workers and leveling the playing field for them, but with the nominations he's made it's just the opposite," said Lee Saunders, president of the public employees union AFSCME.

APTOPIX Fast Food Strikes

U.S. fast-food workers, who are largely not unionized, are engaged in a multi-year campaign, which is supported by labour unions, to raise minimum wages to $15 per hour. (Paul Beaty/Associated Press)

'Wipe out unions'

Shakeups are expected under Trump at the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), which enforces federal anti-discrimination laws. Trump will have an early opportunity to shape the EEOC when he replaces its general counsel, Obama appointee David Lopez, who is leaving the agency this month, and a vacancy on the commission.

Trump will also be able to fill two current vacanies on the five-member NLRB early in his term, likely tipping the agency to a more business-friendly posture.

Although just 11.1 per cent of U.S. workers were represented by a union in 2015 — down from 20.1 per cent in 1983, the first year government statistics were kept — labour unions are a powerful force in Democratic politics. But union members' support for Clinton at the election was lower than it had been for President Barack Obama four years ago.

About 51 per cent of voters from union households backed Clinton, with 42 per cent supporting Trump, a CNN exit poll showed. Obama won 58 per cent of the same voters in his 2012 re-election win against Republican Mitt Romney.

Business groups welcomed the appointment of Puzder. Robert Cresanti, president of the International Franchise Association, an industry group, praised him as an "exceptional choice" who would bring "business experience and policy acumen on so many issues impacting employers and employees."

But Democrats were critical.

"In Andrew Puzder, Trump found a labour secretary that would help him roll back the minimum wage, end the overtime rule that will raise wages for millions, weaken safeguards for workers, and to wipe out unions," said American Bridge, a liberal advocacy group.