The chief of France’s largest construction association has voiced his disdain after a top labor official said businesses are too quick to shut down work amid the Covid-19 pandemic that is becoming more deadly by the day.

Jacques Chanut, the president of the French Federation of Construction (FFB), the country’s biggest building industry union, slammed Labor Minister Muriel Penicaud for her “contempt” towards construction companies struggling amid the coronavirus pandemic.

In an op-ed for Le Figaro titled “No, Madame Penicaud, the construction workers are not deserting!” Chanut urged the government to “take responsibility so work on the closed construction sites can resume in good conditions.”

Chanut’s words were a rebuke to Penicaud’s earlier interview, in which she accused the construction companies of a “defeatist” attitude and lack of “civility” in the wake of the nationwide crisis sparked by Covid-19. The minister was outraged after Capeb – a confederation of small businesses – advised its members to stop working on the sites due to health risks.

Speaking to news channel LCI on Thursday, Penicaud chastised the companies for shutting down operations without looking for alternative “solutions.”

“It is not right that some people are continuing to work while others are not,” she said.

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Chanut, in turn, argued that companies were forced to abandon their work due to alerts from health officials, the disruption of supply chains, and “legitimate concerns” of employees on the ground, coupled with a strict 15-day nationwide curfew imposed by President Emmanuel Macron this week.

“We want to resume work, we are waiting for that, we have not given up! But not at any cost!” the FFB head said.

“Let us be clear: when facing trial, the women and men of the building industry are never deserters.”

There have been more than 12,600 confirmed cases of Covid-19 in France, with 450 deaths.

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