Director left on shelf to stack shelves

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AS A computer sales director Tony Webster commanded a salary of pounds 40,000 a year. Now he earns just pounds 7,000 as a shelf-stacker for his local supermarket.

For more than 30 years Mr Webster, 59, worked in computers - designing hardware and software as well as working in sales - but his age means that since he was made redundant from his last job he has not been able to get full-time employment in this field.

He took his last employer to an industrial tribunal and won an out-of- court settlement for wrongful dismissal and breach of contract. He is convinced that ageism lay behind the loss of his job.

"The company I worked for was run by a 29-year-old. He said to me that he was worried that the average age of the company was creeping up. I was far older than anyone else, most of the rest were under 30," Mr Webster said.

"Soon afterwards I was given the sack."

He feels this is not an isolated incident. Two years ago Mr Webster sent out 40 letters applying for jobs without mentioning his age. He received 29 replies and was invited to 12 interviews. When he mentioned his age on application letters, he never got a reply.

"I have a lot of experience, a lot of knowledge," he said. "The attitude is often that managers are worried by your age down on the sheet instead of looking at your ability.

"While I defend the right of employers to employ who they like, I feel angry about being ignored purely because of my age."

To support himself, Mr Webster got a job at a Budgen supermarket, where he is paid pounds 3.83 an hour to stack shelves. "Though I like what I'm doing at the moment I would love to go back to computers," he said.

"I can see that employers would be worried about the health aspect of employing older workers, but I'm doing a hard physical job at the supermarket. I've lost a stone and a half, so I can do anything. I've proved I've got stamina."

Mr Webster is also doing some Web design part-time and has continued to write poetry and short stories, some of which have been published. He feels he still has a lot to give to society.

"Older people often have a lot of loyalty and a lot of reliability," he said. "They have the ability to interact with other people. We need to educate employers into seeing the benefit of older employees - they still have so much to offer."