Nurses' union president Debbie Forward said her members will not be deterred by warnings from Premier Danny Williams. ((CBC))

Newfoundland and Labrador's nurses won't back down from a volatile conflict over wages because Premier Danny Williams has suggested a government offer could shrink in a worsening economy, a union official said Wednesday.

Williams told reporters Tuesday that low oil prices may mean the government may not even be able to afford the four-year raise of slightly more than 20 per cent that it expects its public service unions to accept.

Newfoundland and Labrador Nurses' Union president Debbie Forward said Williams's comments will not mean a change of tactics for the union's campaign.

The nurses' union has asked for a raise of more than 24 per cent over two years, plus an overhaul of starting and top wage scales. Even when oil prices were soaring, the government said it could not afford those demands.

Forward told CBC News that the government cut special deals with some medical specialists earlier this year and will not rescind them.

"We've seen this government making decisions around having to do what has to be done to keep other health-care providers," Forward said.

"We've seen it with physicians. That was necessary [and] I certainly don't expect government now to go to those physicians now and say, 'You know, we might have to change all that because the financial position has changed,' " Forward said in an interview.

"Because we need those health-care providers to provide health care, just as well as we need nurses."

Setting a template

To date, the Canadian Union of Public Employees is the only union that has settled with the provincial government. CUPE members accepted a wage package of more than 20 per cent over four years, with an eight per cent raise in the first year.

The government has said that the CUPE contract sets a template for other public-sector unions.

CBC News contacted other unions following Williams's comments on Tuesday outside the legislature.

Representatives with the Newfoundland and Labrador Association of Public and Private Employees (NAPE) and the Newfoundland and Labrador Teachers' Association have declined to comment so far.

A simmering dispute between NAPE and CUPE over the latter union's deal burst into the open earlier this month, when NAPE officials said they were being pressured into bargaining concessions in the wake of the CUPE deal.